Berman’s Branches
Barbara Hacker Berman
Interviews - Danny and Lee Hacker



Also interview with Leo Rubenstein 9/24/96.

Both the Hacker and Sternberg families came through Ellis Island, formerly known as Castle Gardens, in the late 1880’s. Both families came from the same region of Europe--a corner of Austria/Hungary/Russia/Poland. Neither family knew each other in Europe. They left the area to avoid military service in the Austria/Hungarian War. It was an area known as “Galicia”. On their naturalization papers, etc., it states country of origin as Austria. The name “Hacker” probably comes from a woodchopper or “hocker”.

They settled in the area of NYC around Canal Street in the lower East Side. The different groups formed societies where they socialized, had their own banks, etc. The Hacker family came from a town that sounded like “Columaya”. They joined the “Columaya Society” (Kolomyya??). ** The Sternbergs came from the town of “Milnitz” (Mielnitza?) and so joined that society.

Uncle Danny’s grandfathers were Israel Sternberg and Pincus Hacker. They called them “Big Zayda” and “Little Zayda”. Both men had several marriages. It is believed that little Zayda may have had as many as 7! Big Zayda Sternberg was a favorite. He had pockets full of candy. He never worked much but people gave him money. Little Zayda Hacker was not a lovely person. He was money hungry. He worked his children and was stingy with his wife. At one time, his son, Max, learned how to open his safe in which he kept his money. Pincus liked his booze strong! One time Danny bought him a special treat--a bottle of Canadian Club. The next week Danny asked him how he liked it. He replied, “Pishatz! Too weak!” Max then gave the money to his mother. Pincus found out and threw Max out of the house. Another time, later in life, Michael was helping support him. Danny had just graduated from law school. They found out Pincus had several thousand dollars and didn’t need all the support he was getting. Michael took him to court, and, with Danny’s help, got a court ruling for less support. Chabella was well loved and statuesque. She was the last wife of Israel Sternberg. Chabella died a few years prior to Israel. When she died Israel went to live with Michael and Anna in a house they owned in Brownsville, 185 Bay 14th. Danny remembers the time he lived with them fondly. Danny graduated law school and came home in his gown to show Israel. He was so proud. When Ruby married out of the Jewish faith, he accepted the marriage. When Bobby was born he paid a lot of attention to him and taught him about Judaism.

Pincus Hacker arrived in the USA with three children: Max (3 years younger than Michael), Anna (the youngest) and Michael (the oldest born 5/4/1880). They read the name “Hecker’s Flour” and thought that would be a good name since “Hecker’s Flour” was such a successful company. Part of the family then went by the name Hacker and Max went by the name Hecker.

Max Hecker loved everyone--including ladies, cards and the horses. He was a slim dapper man. He looked like Jimmy Walker, the then mayor of New York City. He married Bessie. Bessie and Anna Hacker were very close. Max and Bessie had three children--Herbert, Helen and Victor.

Anna Hacker married Benjamin Rubenstein. Ben worked in the garment business. Annie was a fighter. She fought with everyone. Ben and Anna had 6 children but only three survived--Max who died at age 65, Sylvia (still alive and living in NY). Sylvia’s eyesight is poor but she has an excellent memory. Leo suggested I call her. Leon (Leo) was the youngest. Leo married Elizabeth who he called Liz. Some of the family called her Betty. They had two sons, Kenneth and Ronald. Pincus used to come to Leo’s house to bath as he didn’t want to go to the public baths. Leo lost his job right before his wedding. He finally got a job in the garment industry. He became head of the shipping department. Liz also worked in the garment industry. At their first apartment project, they met and became friends with Jackie and Mac. Mac was trying to teach Jackie to drive and Leo was trying to teach Liz to drive. It was an awful battle! So they decided to switch--Leo taught Jackie to drive and Mac taught Liz. It worked out great! Since Liz’s death, Leo has renewed his friendship with Jackie who has been a widow for 13 years. Leo moved to Florida in 1978. Sylvia married Sam Greenberg. They had one son, Howard, who has died. Anna dominated the bringing up of Howard.

Michael Hacker married Anna Sternberg in NY. (They did not meet in Europe.) The story is that Anna was entertaining her beau in her apartment when Michael came in. They met, chatted and left the apartment by the back, leaving the old beau there. Off they went and got married! After his marriage, Michael went to school to learn English. He learned so well, he spoke with very little accent. Their wedding date is unknown.

Michael became a citizen Dec. 2, 1902.

They had the following children:

  • Harry (real name Aaron)
  • Fay (who died as a toddler after being hit by a bicycle)
  • Ruby (who was a twin, the twin died as a baby)
  • Danny
  • Henrietta
  • Morris (Moe)

The family plot is in the Mount Zion Cemetery, Naspeth, Long Island. (See attached.)

Harry Hacker was a talented pianist. He married Shirley Zimbler after Anna broke up his love affair. Shirley was a 2nd cousin. Anna arranged the marriage. Shirley and Harry had two children--Lynne and Paul.

Danny married Lillian (Lee) Garmise (spelling?). They have been married 63 years. They knew each other as youngsters traveling in the same group. They were married by Cantor who was also a butcher! They moved to Florida in 1972. Danny graduated school as a lawyer but did not practice. He has had a varying career. Lee worked in the offices of James Madison High School in Brooklyn for 43 years.

Anna and Mike moved to a town near Boston for a while. In NY Michael ran a clothing store but went broke. Ruby and his twin were born there. They became very ill and were hospitalized. Ruby was the most sickly, but the other twin, Herman, died. Ruby was always sickly, skinny, sour and tough. He was a loner. One drink and he became one happy fellow. He was a talented dancer. He danced with the Follies and had his own act on the road. His stage name was “Bob Howard”. He was married in City Hall to Betty. No one knew. But when Anna found, from a call from a newspaper reporter wanting information, she got Betty, who was throwing up (pregnant) and alone she went to Baltimore along with Danny and Lee to confront Ruby and make him stay with his wife. That pretty well ended his career on the road. She was not Jewish, but went through a “quickie” conversion. They had two children--Bobby and Jeannie. It was not a happy marriage. Bobby always considered himself Jewish and felt welcome because Big Zayda welcomed him and talked to him about being Jewish. Little Zayda did not.

After the death of the twin (note: per death cert. of Herman Hacker, twin, he died at Lebanon Hospital, NY), they moved back to Brownsville, NY with no money. A friend told Michael he could make money as a street car conductor. He would collect the nickel fare and give one to the company and keep one for himself. Michael was very honest but was convinced this was okay. Well, the first nickel he pocketed, he got caught! He asked his friend what to do now. He was told to go back, apply again under another name! So, much for that career. Michael got a job with Metropolitan Life Insurance but had to put up $50.00 which he did not have. Anna was walking on Pitken Avenue and saw a sign for a Socialist Club. She went in talked to the President who lent her the money with no collateral. They never forgot that kindness. The area he worked was all Italians and he spoke no Italian. Anna got him an Italian/English dictionary and little by little he learned to speak fluently with no accent. He became very popular in the Italian area and a success with Metropolitan Life, where he worked until he retired. Upon retirement, he and Anna moved to Miami Beach.

Henrietta married Louis Krinsky who was a widower with two children, Marvin and Richard. They later had two children together--Stanley and Anne.

Michael Hacker’s side of the family were “earthy” people. They love to go to Hungarian restaurants to eat and drink. The Sternberg side felt they were “intellectuals”. They were rather “stuck-up”.

Israel Sternberg had four children, born in Europe--Samuel (Shachner), Harry ( the oldest), Fanny (Flo), and Anna. Sammy and Harry could speak English--hence the status of “intellectual”.

Flo worked for a furrier. She married Samuel Baer, a charming and well traveled man. He was a wealthy man, born rich. He went broke in the crash of 1929. A few days before the crash Flo urged him to put money in trust for their two daughters. He felt there was no need to do this. He eventually regained some of his wealth, but Flo became an alcoholic.

Samuel Sternberg married Mary. They were very close with Danny Hacker. Danny helped Mary with many things. Once she called him upset that the department store, A & S, billed her $20.00, and she was sure she had not bought anything there for $20.00. Well, Danny went to A & S to straighten the matter out. Sure enough she didn’t buy anything there for $20.00--it was $200.00 and they billed her too little! I am sure she was sorry she questioned the bill. They had four children--Lilly, Aaron (Al), Henrietta, and the oldest daughter “Figs” (Frances?). Uncle Danny did not know the children well. Henrietta was a model and quite lovely. He met her at a party and “picked her up” not knowing she was his cousin! When he took her home was he surprised. That ended that romance. Lilly had a lover but never married. She worked on Wall Street for a commodity broker. Moe was close to Al, especially when both lived in Jacksonville.

Harry and Samuel Sternberg were dress manufacturing contractors and did well. Harry had four daughters. He married Viola (Vollie). Viola was a proud, stiff German who did not want to use Yiddish or even recognize her Jewishness. When Hitler came into power, all of a sudden she spoke fluent Yiddish and was very Jewish! One daughter, Hilda, was very close to Anna Hacker. Anna intervened for her when she wanted to work in the dress business. She became a successful dress designer. She married Milton Altmark. In later years, Moe Hacker worked as a stock boy for Milton Altmark. Milton loved Anna’s cooking, especially her “grebines”, (fried chicken skins). He asked Moe to bring him a big batch. Wanting to keep his new job, he asked his mother to prepare a big batch, which she did. The next day, Milton took the whole batch into his office, polished them off and became really sick!

Henry Rosenfeld, another cousin of Anna’s, was also a dress manufacturer.

Anna Hacker was the family matriarch. She was a great cook and a dreamer. She always wanted what she did not have. (Moe was quite like his mother.) At one time she decided California was the place to go for better air. Off she went with Harry and Henrietta by bus. After several months, she wanted to come home but had no money. Uncle Danny borrowed money on his insurance policy to get them back. (It took him 20 years to pay the loan back.) While in California, she sent back a batch of her famous strudel for the family. This had been promised to Danny. Danny asked Lee if they ever got the strudel. Turns out that Aunt Lee got it, hid it in the closet and ate all of it herself!

Moe (Morris Frank) married Florence Druse. Before his marriage to Florence, he had an ill-fated marriage. One day he came to Danny and said he had gotten married. When Danny asked why he answered that they had nothing else to do that day! She was only 17. She wouldn’t sleep with him. They decided not to tell their parents until after Danny (who was a lawyer) got it annulled. Michael Hacker had a fit when he did find out--mainly for not being told in the first place. Moe was always a salesman. He moved to Miami, Fl. in 1943 because Barbara had rheumatic fever. He got a job in a delicatessen by telling the owner he was experienced--he was not. When the owner found out he told Moe he must have really needed a job to lie, so he let him stay! That was the beginning of Moe’s working in some end of the food service industry.

Danny and Lee went on many trips with Moe and Florrie. A special place for them was Saratoga.

When in his nineties, Max came to visit Michael. Michael did not recognize him. Max said, “It’s your kid brother, Max!” I guess, once a kid brother, always a kid brother!

Michael was alert and sharp even right before his death at age 98. Uncle Danny visited him and was talking to him about his (Danny’s birth) and being delivered by a Midwife. Michael said, “What Midwife? You were delivered by the butcher’s wife!” What had happened was that the doctor was at the home with Anna, but the baby did not come, so he left. When he did, Uncle Danny decided to to enter the world. So Michael quickly went downstairs to the butcher shop and the wife came up to help. Danny was born and married by butchers!

**Kolomea, was known as Kolomija, Poland between the 1st and 2nd world wars. Now is is Olomiyya, Ukraine, per “Galitzianer”, Vol. 3 No. 2.

Note: Per Michael Hacker’s Naturalization papers, naturalized Nov. 2, 1965.

Copy of people in the Sternberg plot in 1956:

Name: Died:
Louis Cohen Feb. 12, 1921
Clara Cohen May 24, 1926
Israel Sternberg Aug. 9, 1931
Sam Brenner April 7, 1906
Fay Hacker Sept. 28, 1905
Kessler Nov. 26, 1902
Zichner July 23, 1901
Hersher Jan. 5, 1901
Yetta H. Sternberg (Annie) Apr. 22, 1910
Silvia Sternberg June 26, 1911
Malke Sternberg Sept. 26, 1911
Viola Sternberg Jan. 12, 1945

Per Sylvia Rubenstein Greenberg, Pincus had a wonderful long black coat, lined with raccoon, with a chinchilla collar. Oh, how she longed for that coat. As a child, she dreamed that when he died he would will it to her!

8/1/97 Per Uncle Danny: The comedian, Buddy Hackett’s real name is Leonard Hacker. He is a distant cousin. Michael Hacker was a cousin to his father. Danny remembers long ago a family in Bensonhurst who were Hacker’s from France. He is not sure if there is a relationship.