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Are There


A Look At The Times And Places Where Our Story Begins

The Belarus of today is a small country (about the size of Kansas) that was carved out of the USSR. It is relatively level, heavily forested, well drained by several major rivers which produce the Pripet marshes along the Ukrainian border, and relatively poor in natural resources.   The name Belarus means White Russia.   The capital is Minsk.

Figure 1.1 - Present Day Belarus

Except for a very brief period between 1918 and 1919, Belarus never existed as an independent country until the breakup of the USSR in 1991.   Human settlement in Belarusian territory dates to prehistoric time with the first Slavic tribes arriving between the 6th and 8th centuries.   Between the 10th century and 1991, Belarusian territory was ruled by Kievan Rus (the first significant east Slavic state), Lithuania, Poland, Imperial Russia, Soviet Russia and Germany.   After its brief independence in 1918-1919, Belarus became the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic, one of the four founding republics of the USSR.1

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there was a steady influx of Jews from the west and by 1900, all the major cities, Vilnius, Minsk, Gomel and Mahilyow had Jewish majorities.   Belarus was totally occupied by the nazis early in World War II and over two million residents, primarily Jews, perished during the occupation.  

Gomel, or Homel or Homyel in Yiddish (Russian has no ?H? sound), our starting point, is located in southeast Belarus not far from the Ukrainian border (see Figure 1.1).   It is first mentioned in 1142, and has been under Kievan Russian, Polish, Lithuanian, Imperial Russian, German and Soviet Russian rule.   It has been a regional capital, is a major Sozh river port, and has had a university since 1969.   It was heavily destroyed during WW II and has been largely rebuilt.   Population was estimated as 506,000 in 1990.

Jewish settlement in Gomel dates to 1537, when the city was annexed to Lithuania.   During the Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in 1648, many Ukranian refugees fled to Gomel, but the Cossacks reached the city and massacred 2,000 Jews.   By 1765 there were 685 Jewish families in Gomel.   After becoming a district capital in 1852, Gomel became an important commercial center and its annual fair attracted many Jewish merchants.   In 1847, about when our story begins, a census counted 3,925 Jews in Gomel and its suburb, Belitsa.   By 1897, the Jewish population had grown to 20,835, representing 56.4% of the total population. There were 30 synagogues, including the Great Synagogue built by Count Rumyantsev in the middle of the nineteenth century (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 - The Great Synagogue ca 1910

Although some Jews traded in forest products, most were quite poor.   All the different movements in Jewish life were represented in Gomel including Habad Hassidism, the Socialist Bund, and Zionism.   There were several Hebrew schools.   Many Zionists from Gomel were pioneers in the second and third Aliyot to Palestine, before and after World War I.2 & In 1903 there was a pogrom in Gomel in which 8 Jews were killed, many wounded and much property destroyed.   That pogrom is mentioned on a plaque in the Ellis Island National Monument.   After the pogrom, a Jewish self-defense group was organized, but the authorities prosecuted 36 of its members, along with the pogrom perpetrators, for committing Pogroms Against the Russian People.   Figure 1.2a shows articles from the Jewish Daily Forward's "Looking Back" feature, containing contemperaneous accounts of the pogrom translated from the original Yiddish.

Figure 1.2a

Figure 1.3

Todays Gomel is reported to be a relatively unattractive industrial city, with serious environmental problems.   The most serious problem stems from the April, 1968 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in northern Ukraine, only 10 miles south of the Belarusian border.   More than 60% of the radioactive fallout from the explosion fell on Belarus.   More than 160,000 Belarusians were evacuated from there homes, and one of the heaviest hit areas was Gomel.   Radioactive elements still contaminate much of the soil in rural Belarus.   Figure 1.3 shows a radioactive "No Entry" sign3 near Gomel.

There are 8,000 Jews living in Gomel today.   One synagogue, built in 1895, miraculously survived World War II and has been returned to the Jewish community.   It now houses an orthodox community, a progressive community, a school, kindergarten, Jewish Club, and library.   There is one old Jewish cemetery in the city, plus a newer one.   The Soviet government had a policy of confiscating cemeteries (not only Jewish) if they were not used for 25 years.   There is also a city museum with a depository that may contain records of interest.


  1. The four republics were Russian SSR, Byelorussian SSR, Ukrainian SSR, and Transcaucasian SSR.The latter eventually split into Georgian SSR, Armenian SSR, and Azerbaijan SSR.
  2. These pioneers may have included Avraham Yaakov Belinkoff and his brothers who sired the large Israeli Belinkoff clan. See Chapter 13.
  3. From "Science" magazine, 4/20/2001.


In the Beginning

Fig. 2.1 - Yitzchak Belinkoff

We pickup the thread of our story about in 1850, probably somewhere in Belarus, when Yitzchak Belinkoff was born.   We know nothing about his birth, parents (except that his father's name was probably Eliyahu or Eliezer.1) or siblings (he had them: Rose remembers playing with cousins2), and can only guess his birth date from the ages of his children.   Not even Gomel as his birthplace can be taken for granted since there is evidence of far more movement by Pale of Settlement3 Jews than had heretofore been presumed.   He probably came from a pious family since he was a Talmudic scholar all his life.

Fig. 2.2 Temma Klein Belinkoff

Temma (Tamar7) Klein or Kleinart, who became Yitzchak's wife about 1871, was also born probably someplace in Belarus about 1855.   Temma's maiden name is known from the death certificates of her second and third daughters, Sophie and Frieda, who died in 1948 and 1918 respectively. (see Chapters 5 and 7).   Although Sophie's death was much later than Freda's, we are inclined to accept its version of Temma's maiden name (Klein) because she was married in Russia and her husband knew his mother-in-law personally.   Frieda was married in the US, and her husband's acquaintance with his mother-in-law was somewhat more tenuous, although he also probably knew her in Russia.

Temma's father's name was most likely Yoel, Hebrew for the prophet Joel.   In the Litvak Yiddish dialect of the region, it would have been pronounced 'Yale', and that is the origin of the three Yales that occur later in our story, all three having been named after their maternal grandfather and great-grandfather.

Since Yitzchak was a noted scholar and spent all his life studying the holy books, it fell to Temma to maintain the family, and by all accounts she did an admirable job.   The family business was some sort of grocery enterprise which Temma ran, and it appears to have been relatively successful.   It is very possible that the business came as part of Temma's dowry since a scholar such as Yitzchak would have been considered a prize among nineteenth century Russian Jews.

Yitzchak and Temma had eight children who grew to adulthood (see Figure 2.3).   We know of no children who died in early childhood, but, since such deaths were quite common, other births are probable, particularly during the nine years between the births of Rose and Yale.   The first two births were twins, Elya and Yocha, probably about 1873, followed by Sophie (1875), Freda (1880), Lazar (1883), Meir (1885), Rose (1885), and Yale (1894). The last six births all have some level of authentification, such as age on ship manifests, US census, naturalization petitions, and death certificates.   Many of these citations are in conflict, and these dates represent best guesses in most cases.

All of the boys were raised to be scholars and there appears to have been a good deal of conflict about that.   The eldest son left home to live in Germany at a fairly early age (see Chapter 3), probably to get away from a life of study.   None of the other sons appear to have taken to the scholarly life either, and all had left the home before their father died.

The girls were raised by their mother to be what passed for liberated in Jewish Russia.   They were privately tutored, and Rose in particular became literate in French and German as well as Russian and Yiddish5.   All the girls except Rose married in Europe, and all had left the ancestral home by the time Yizchak died.

Temma died in Gomel in 1903, at about age 48, from an unknown cause.   Family legend has her death occurring on Yom Kippur.   Although all the children except Yale were adults, Yitzchak was completely unable to cope with the business and a young son, particularly one spoiled by four older sisters.   He remarried very quickly, but we have no information about the second wife, except that she was unable to deal with young Yale and he was sent to live with older brother, Elya, in Germany for about a year.

Yitzchak's second wife had children from a previous marriage, and at least one son made it to the USA where he befriended Rose Belinkoff with unsatisfactory results (see Chapter 9).

Yitzchak was supposed to emigrate to the US after the last child (Yale), but he died in 1913 in Gomel6 before the plan could be executed.

Figure 2.3 - The Children of Yitzchak & Temma Belinkoff

Note: Birth dates above for Yoel, Temma, Yitzchak, Elya and Yocha are estimated. Death dates for Yoel, Elya and Yocha are estimated. The picture of Yocha is assumed.


  1. Based on the names of his two eldest sons.
  2. See interview with Frieda Burson, 10/11/1998, Archive 3.4.1, pg. 1
  3. Pale of Settlement was the name given to the area in Imperial Russia in which Jews were allowed to live. It included virtually all of Belarus.
  4. Ibid, pg. 1
  5. Ibid, pg. 1
  6. Notes from Temma Belinkoff Jacobs, 9/24/1989, Archive 3.13.1, pg. 1
  7. The name Temma is a diminutive of Tamar. See The New Name Dictionary, Alfred J. Kolatch, 1989



The One Belinkoff That Did Not Get to the USA

Elya (Eliyahu6) Belinkoff was born about 1873, with his twin sister, Yocha (see Chapter 4).   He was probably named after his paternal grandfather.

We know virtually nothing about his life, except that he married a woman named Bluma, and moved to Germany about 1893, which would have been very shortly after he married.   His early departure from the home was probably due to conflict with his father about adopting a life of study.   He probably lived in either Bochum or Bakum, Germany, according to a story told by his brother, Yale (see Chapter 9).   We do not know how he got permission to settle in Germany.   He made his living with with some sort of canned fish business.1

Elya and Bluma had one child, a girl born in 19042 and named Temma, after her grandmother.   Two pictures of Temma have survived.

Figure 3.1
Temma as a young child

Figure 3.2
Temma as a young adult

Figure 3.1 shows Temma as a young child, probably 5-6 years old.   Figure 3.2 is more problematic.   A handwritten inscription on the back has been translated as ?This photo belongs to E.Y. Belinkoff.   Taken in Gomel.?3 Temma appears to be a young adult, perhaps 15 - 23 years old, well dressed and prosperous looking.   She would certainly have been unable to travel between Germany and Russia during World War I, 1914-1918, when she was 9 - 14 years old.   1919 -1922, when she was 15 -18 years old, was a period of great chaos in Russia and particularly in Belarus, with war raging between the Communists and White Russians, and serious famine.   After 1922, the Communists were in control, and Belarus was a difficult place to live.   Therefore, it is difficult to date the picture. Her grandfather died in 1913, and after that she had no close relatives in Gomel.   Perhaps she was trapped in Gomel after her grandfather?s death by the outbreak of the war.   E.Y. Belinkoff, referred to in the translation was probably her father.

Temma married a Polish man some time in the 1920s4 .   They emigrated to Palestine in the mid 1920s, stayed less than a year, and returned to Poland.   The Israeli Belinkoffs also emigrated to Palestine in the mid 1920s (see chapter 11), but none of them remember a family story about any such couple.   Contact with Temma and her husband was lost with the outbreak of World War II, and we must presume she was lost in the Holocaust.   A page of testimony has been submitted about her, but without a married last name, it is doubtful that any records can be located.

The outbreak of World War II also prevented Elya from emigrating to the US according to the family plan.   Sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s, Elya moved to Paris where he died shortly before the outbreak of the war5.   Research in Paris has been unable to come up with his death certificate, but we have found mention of several other Belinkoffs in Paris prior to WWII (See Chapter 11).


  1. See telephone conversation with Frieda Burson, 10/15/2000, archive 3.4.3.
  2. See interview with Frieda Burson, 10/11/1998, reference 3.4.1, pg. 3.
  3. Translated by Laura Leschner, 9/9/1997.
  4. Ibid pg. 3.
  5. Ibid pg 1 and telephone conversation with Frieda Burson, 10/15/2000, reference 3.4.3.
  6. The name Elya is a diminutive of Eliahu. See The New Name Dictionary, Alfred J. Kolatch, 1989.


The Last Belinkoff to Come to the USA

Yocha (Yochevet, after the biblical Moses' mother.1) Belinkoff, twin to Elya, was also born about 1873.   We are not certain about her name, or who she was named after.   Her son Yale?s death certificate2 lists her name as Julia, but that was long after she had died in the US.

Fig. 4.1
Yocha Belinkoff Charnak(?)

She married a man named Charnak, and moved to the Ukraine where they apparently prospered.3   She had three children, a daughter who never got to the US, and two sons, Sam and Yale.   Figure 4.1 is assumed to be Yocha, but we have no absolute confirmation.   The picture seems to have been taken in the 1930s after she emigrated to the US.

Yocha's emigration to the US can be dated sometime after 1927, since she came first to her brother Yale?s home, where Belle Belinkoff reported that ". . .she had to keep her in the bathtub for a week.3   (Yale and Belle were married in January, 1927.)   Since immigrants to the US after 1924 needed visas, there should be a record of her visa application.   So far we have been unable to find it.

After her stay with the Yale Belinkoffs in Ohio, Yocha moved to Philadelphia where she operated a fish market.   She met a man and they planned to marry, when she discovered that she had diabetes and faced a leg amputation.   She called off the wedding, returned a check that Frances Belinkoff had sent as a wedding present from the Los Angeles family, and died shortly thereafter, probably in the late 1930s3.   Her death certificate should also be available, but, as yet, we have been unable to locate it.

Yocha's sons, Sam and Yale, emigrated to the US about 1916 and settled in Youngstown, Ohio.   Shortly after the end of World War II, Yale received a letter from his sister asking for help, and indicating that she had survived the Holocaust and the war.   The family sent her money, but she was never heard from again3.   Not much is known about Sam, except that when he heard his mother was coming to the US, he disappeared and was never heard from again3.   We have been unable to find any trace of him.   Figures 4.2 and 4.3 are somewhat speculative.   Compare 4.2 with Figure 4.4 below and draw your own conclusions as to whether they are the same person.   Temma Belinkoff Jacobs identified Fig. 4.3 as "an uncle", which it surely is not, but Sam Charnak was at least 14 years older than Temma and she may very well have thought of him as an uncle.

Fig. 4.2 - Yale Charnak

Fig. 4.3 - Sam Charnak??

Yale Chernak lived his whole life in Youngstown, operating a newsstand in downtown Youngstown.   Fig. 4.4 shows Yale about 1935, selling the Youngstown Telegram.   The Telegram was purchased by the Vindicator in July, 1936.6   After that he sold the Vindicator and became well known as evidenced by his obituary in the June 7, 1954 Youngstown Vindicator (see Figure 4.6 below).   Although the obituary hints at significant wealth, the Mahoning County Probate Court reports no record of any estate.4

Dave Belinkoff also tells a story about Yale Chernak.   During World War I, Yale collected Russian rubles and German marks.   He once took Dave to his bank to show him his vault full of rubles and marks.   He was positive they would once again be worth significant money.5

Fig. 4.6
Youngstown Vindicator
June 7, 1954

Fig. 4.4
Yale Charnak - 1936


  1. The name Yocha is a diminutive of Yochevet. See The New Name Dictionary, Alfred J. Kolatch, 1989
  2. See Archive reference 1.5.13
  3. See interview with Frieda Burson, archive 3.4.1, pg. 2
  4. See archive reference 2.3.4
  5. Ibid pg.3
  6. See Correspondence with the Youngstown Vindicator, archive 3.24.1.

Appendix - ARE THERE MORE?

Are There Other Belinkoffs Some Place?

There are several other Belinkoff families in the world with whom we have had contact.   In the US there is the family of Dr. Sheldon Belinkoff z"l, of Connecticut and his many descendants.   He was well known through his participation in a landmark medical malpractice lawsuit in the 60s.   We have been unable to establish any connection with this family.

There is also a large Belinkoff family in Israel, stemming from the 1920s.    We have also been in contact with them, and, although they are probably also from the Gomel area of Belarus, we have as yet been unable to make a familial connection.   There are also Belinkoffs recently immigrated to the US from various places in Russia, and other Belinkoffs still in Russia.    Belinkoffs have also been found in Paris, France, including one Albert Belinkoff, age 20, who was included in the first transport of Jews from Paris, March 27, 1942.

From contacts with the family in Israel, both recent and from and from a large family tree receisved from Susanna Belinkova, a recent immigrant from the USSR to Hew York, and from contacts with the Israeli Belinkoffs in 1952, we have constructed a family tree of a very large family, dating back to about 1840, and spanning three continents.    It is included here in the hope that readers someplace will both advise of corrections and additions, and hopefully make a connection with our Belinkoff Family.

In order to see the next chart(s) you must have Adobe Acrobat Reader which is available free.   Click on this link and then on the "Get Adobe Reader" button on the left side of the screen and follow the prompts.    You can also download Adobe Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition free.    Adobe Acrobat Reader is widely used to read many web pages, and operates completely automatically once it has been downloaded.    Use this zoom feature on the Tool Bar to make the Tree larger or smaller.
Use the BACK button on your browser to return here when finished.

To see the first three generations of the Israeli Belinkoff Family - the Russian born predecessors

click: HERE

All of the dates in the first three generation chart are estimates.

There are three second generation children shown.    David, the oldest, had at least 6 children.    Ephraim died in World War I leaving no descendants, and we have no information about descendants of Chaya or Yochevet.    The descendants of Avraham Yaakov, Aaron Moshe, and Herschel are extensive and are shown in the next section.

We have no information on any descendants of the six children of Yaakov Belinkoff, the second member of the second generation.

The name of the youngest member of the second generation is unknown.    Could that be Yitzchak Belinkoff, progenitor of the American Belinkoff family?

The rest of the family has many living descendants and therefore is under passport control.   To see the rest of the family,

click: HERE