Berman’s Branches
Barbara Hacker Berman
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Interviews - Florence Hacker

INTERVIEW WITH Florence Hacker
JULY, 1994 BY BARBARA BERMAN

THE INTERVIEW WAS DONE AT MY HOME WHEN MOM WAS VISITING FOR A WEEK. SHE WAS ALREADY IN FAILING HEALTH AND HER MEMORY WAS NOT TOO GOOD. BUT SHE SEEMED TO ENJOY OUR HOUR OR SO OR REMINISCING. ABOUT ONE WEEK AFTER HER VISIT, SHE HAD THREE STROKES WITHIN 24 HOURS. SHE NEVER LIVED ALONE AGAIN WITH HER BELOVED CAT, MOSEY. SHE WENT FROM THE HOSPITAL TO A NURSING HOME AND WAS MOVED TO A NURSING HOME IN BREVARD COUNTY IN NOVEMBER. MAY 5, 1995, SHE DIED. (Note: I have since added information given to me from various sources.)

Parents were Israel Druse and Bella Swerdloff, born in Russia. They came in through Ellis Island and went to St. Louis first.
Children of Israel and Bella:
Renee, born in Russia
Fay, born in St. Louis, 4/1/07 (or 06)
Harold, born in St. Louis
Florence, born in Brooklyn, NY

This family first went to St. Louis. They then went to NY to go into the laundry business with a Mr. Miller.

Bella’s sister Jenny married a man named Dave Goldman (in the USA). They had a son named Ralph. Ralph had a love affair which the angry parents broke up. Ralph had some sort of “break-down”, went into a “home” and lived there until he died. Per Burton Kahn: Ralph was a wonderful drummer. Dave may have been married prior and had a daughter named “Gertie”.

Bella died when Florence was three years old. Florence remembers Aunt Jenny picking her up when her mother died.

Note: Cecily Cain (Fay’s daughter) told me an interesting story I had not heard. For my parent’s 50th anniversary, we took them to NY. After we left, they stayed on to visit and travel. They went to Ellis Island. When they reached the doors of the Great Hall, Mom froze and could not enter. She had a flash back--she remembered her father taking her here, being frightened, and her father leaving her without any explanation. The reason was that he could not take care of the family and was putting my mother into the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. The Home was full. So, Ellis Island’s infirmary was the “holding” area until a bed became available. Mom did not share this story with me or Wendy, nor did she ever go into Ellis Island again.

Florence stayed in the home many years. Her brother Harry was also brought up in the orphanage.. (Renee and Fay were older and sent to live with a family.)

The Home was disbanded. The children were sent to live with various families. Florence lived with about 13 different families. She did cleaning, etc. to earn her keep.

Florence went to PS 23 (Public School) on 20th avenue in Brooklyn. Florence went to a vocational school in Manhattan on 23rd street. Here she learned millinery. She worked in a hat factory and later a hat store. Later her father got her a job in a hat factory in New Jersey.

She started dating Moe Hacker “early”. She was working in a restaurant at the time for a family named Klein. Mom dated dad just two months before marrying him. They met in a local neighborhood club.

Her lifelong friends were Ruth and Florrie Steinberg. They never married.

Mother was too tired at this point to reminisce any more.

5/13/96. I received a letter from the Jewish Child Care Association of NYC which gave me the following synopsis of Mom’s stay in the Orphanage. Some of which differs from her memory:

Father Israel Druse born in Cherson (Kherson?), Odessa Russia.
Mother Bella Swerdloff Druse born in Viteps (Vitebsk?), Polozk, Russia. Died 1919 of influenza. (Note: Bella’s death certificate states she had a heart condition for 3 years. Probably the flu did her in due to her weak heart. She died while they lived in Philadelphia.)

Florence lived in Plainfield, NJ prior to admission to the Orphanage. Mrs. J. (Jennie Swerdloff) Goldman, maternal aunt, and J. (Joel) Swerdloff, maternal uncle, also lived in Plainfield. (Beverly Kahn says Florence told her she lived in a Catholic Orphanage before going into the BHOA. She shared she remembered sleeping outside a lot at the BHOA and that it was cold! They believed this would help the children avoid germs.)

She was admitted to Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum on 2/28/23. (She would have been 9). States father ill and unable to care for her. (It is our belief his new wife, Ida, did not want the children.)

She lived in two foster homes in Brooklyn.

She was discharged on 5/11/30 (or 5/18/31), but continued to live with the second foster family for a time.

She went to live then with her sister, Rose Potter and then with Fay Kahn.
She graduated high school and studied millinery.
She was employed at the Palley Hat Company as a milliner earning $19-$20/week. As of 6/23/32, she was employed by Fanchel Millinery, Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue, Brooklyn. She later worked at the Univex camera company on the line and then later as a floor manager.

Further research has shown me that Israel and Bella must have come to the USA in either 1903, 04, or 05. It is interesting to note that in Odessa in 1905 there was a revolution. Also, in Vitebsk in 1904 the Socialist Revolutionary Circle was active. Were they involved??

Raphael Swerdloff was Bella’s father. Julius (son of Raphael) owned delicatessens in Plainfield, NJ. Burton Kahn remembers his Aunt Rose giving him giant pickles from the pickle barrel. His children were Morris who was in the sign business, Sam who owned drugstores, Herschel, and Ralph who died in WWII. Julius’ wife was Rose.

I have two embroidery works done by Bella Swerdloff Druse. They were treasured by Florence Hacker. They depict a Russian scene. Per Wendy Hacker, Israel Druse sketched the pictures and Bella embroidered them. Threads from the past!

Burton Kahn shared the following remembered story after he read the research information on the “Sverdlov” family name. In the research, it was mentioned that one derivative of Sverdlov was “Sweet”. Burt remembers being very small, around 5 or 6 and the big excitement when cousin Sam Sweet came to visit. He was very wealthy and had a chauffeur driven car--driven by “Sam”. The story was that he sold an island to the city of New York which they used to build part of the George Washington Bridge on. Sam daily went to work in NYC, had his shoes shined for 5¢ and left a $1.00 tip. For a 50¢ haircut, he left a $5.00 tip! Burt does not remember how he was related.

8/7/96 From Helen Druse: Israel Druse only said about his family that he was an only child of elderly parents. He left Russia to escape army duty. Bella was a kindly, beautiful woman who also worked in their paint store in St. Louis, where Harold Druse was born. Israel painted houses for a living.

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