A Photographer's Life

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Moisei Arenberg: The Early Years

Moisei Arenberg, also known as Mikhail Anisimovich Arenberg, was born in Tiraspol, Moldova in 1876 to Anchel and Malka Arenberg.

Moisei began his lifelong career in photography by traveling to Kishinev (now Chisinau), the capital and commercial center of the country of Moldova,  sometime in the early to mid-1890s. While there, Moisei studied and apprenticed at a photography studio. After his apprenticeship had ended, he left Kishinev (no later than 1896), most likely for Mariupol, Ukraine.

On a historical note, the population of Kishinev was more than 125,000 in 1900, and was more than forty percent Jewish. This was one of the highest percentages of all the towns in Europe at the time. Kishinev is known as the place where two pogroms (violent acts committed against the Jewish population) occurred in 1903 and 1905.



From Mariupol to Tiraspol


Moisei and his Family


After his apprenticeship Moisei traveled  to Vladikavkaz, a town on the Terek River in the Northern Caucuses that had a big Jewish community. Here he met the charming Zhenia (Sheindl).  It was love at first sight. They married in 1897 and settled in Mariupol, Ukraine, where Moisei opened a photography studio. After a year their first son Grisha was born, and then in 1902 Shura. In 1904 they moved to Armavir where daughter Valentina (Valia) was born. The family soon returned to Tiraspol where they finally made a home for themselves and their children. There Moisei again opened a photography studio.

In his everyday life, Moisei was a severe man with character; his wife was soft, sweet and careful. Zhenia was a first-class mistress of the house, and was a good cook, especially in regard to the Jewish dishes that were made during feasts.  Her family loved her infinitely.

The Arenberg photography studio of in Tiraspol soon became very popular. Moisei Arenberg, the studio owner, made a respectable appearance, was a well-mannered person with fine artistic taste, and executed conscientiously the orders that were given to him by his clients. His sons Grisha and Shura would often help him in his studio.


Life in Tirasp


Valentina (Valia) Arenberg

Valentina (Valia) was born in Armavir in 1904, the only daughter of Moisei and Zhenia Arenberg. As a child, Valia studied in gymnasia and also studied piano with a teacher. Like her siblings, Valia was well-read since they all had access to a fine home library with classical Russian and world literature. She left Tiraspol in order to study music at the Odessa Conservatory for a period of time in the early 1920s. In 1924 she met Naum Tovbin, whom she married in 1927. They first lived briefly in Kharkov and then Kiev before settling in Odessa..

Valia worked a little in a savings bank in Kiev as an operator and also at the bonbon fabrique as a"worker", wrapping up the bonbons. She was gay and witty and always had her admirers. During these years there was only the portable gramophone (called a "patephone"), so a person who could play piano was appreciated and admired. Valia played the classical music of Grieg, Chopin and Skriabin, though not very exact, but "con brio." She also played and sang the popular songs of the day. Valia was a "kindling woman", good-hearted, and a good wife and friend


Alexandre (Sasha) A


Alexandre Anisimovich Arenberg

Moisei's brother Alexandre Anisimovich Arenberg was lovingly called “Uncle Sasha” by his relatives.  He was a very interesting person, honest, of ready sympathy and kind. Born in 1878 in Tiraspol, he lived most of his life in Odessa. Before the Revolution of 1917 he worked as a reporter and journalist, while at the same time representing in Odessa and in the whole of Russia the interests of the French newspaper  “Figaro." During these years when his journalistic activity flourished, Alexander met and interviewed many who took their honorable place in Russian culture and history: writers Bounin, Kouprin, Korolenko, Gorky, regisseur Stanislavsky, bass singer Shaliapin, participants of the historical Beilis process, prominent Russian and foreign political figures, etc.  Alexandre once said: “ If I wished, I could find today in libraries some reflections of my meetings. But this is not everything and not what is most important. What is important is not only what is printed, but more so my personal impressions of my interlocutors. Especially valuable today could have been what was put on paper in my notebook, but due to the conditions that existed at that time, didn't reach the typesetter. But alas, in the kettle of the nervous editorial life, I was unable to look into the future and appreciate the meetings for their real merit.”

 In the 1920s, Alexandre was a reporter for the Odessa newspaper Moriak, where works of the outstanding writers of that time, e.g. Babel and Kataev, were published. There he came to know Paustovsky whom he befriended for many years. In the novel “Time of Great Expectations,” Paustovsky describes Uncle Sasha: “Came the reporter Arenberg, a thick-set man with laughing eyes. He heatedly rejoiced over any news. He was excited by the very running of life, by the peripetia and details of its movement, by all its changes, independent of what this could bring: misfortune or good fortune. This was for him an important question as well, but of secondary importance.”


Moisei Arenberg F
Alexandre (Shura) Arenberg


Alexandre (Shura) Arenberg

Shura was born in Mariupol in 1902. He was the second boy and middle child in his family. He and his family  lived for the most part in Tiraspol, Moldova. After the Revolution of 1917, Shura was on the side of the Revolution and served with the Red Army in the Ukraine. In 1928 he moved to Samarkand, then the capital of Uzbekistan. His fiancée Fira joined him and they married.

From their son Eric:

I remember him with his saber, in his military greatcoat that he wore when he'd come home from the fortress. Dad was a physical training teacher. He was good-natured, gentle and kind. He would never punish me,  never thrash me. When I wanted to go out-of-doors and Mom  categorically said “no,” he would say “los er geht”.  I waited for this magic  “los er geht” without waiting for Mom to start discussing it with him.
During all the years that we lived in Samarkand, Dad worked in the same place, a scientific institute for the breeding of astrakhan sheep. His profession was actually photography, as it was for his father and my grandfather Misha (Moisei) Arenberg. But he was different from my grandfather, for he preferred to work with sheep and rams rather than with capricious clients.

It was a hobby of his, taking photographs of his neighbors, relatives, events, natural phenomena, relics of the past, etc. In dozens of houses are suspended even today the portraits skillfully made by my father. Our family archive of the photos he took numbers more than one thousand. I gave to the Samarkand historical museum about five hundred photographs that my father had taken, reflecting the life of the town of Samarkand over scores of years.

Father graduated from the real school, but due to his inquisitive, curious and humanitarian nature, he became a very well educated person. He knew Greek mythology, read much classical literature, and loved and understood classical music. For relaxation, he read books or listened to Beethoven. He loved to entertain guests and enjoyed having festive meals with them.

In 1915 Shura's future wife Fira, age six or seven at the time, was alone at home when drunken Cossacks, who were destroying a number of the Jewish houses in Tiraspol, rushed into the courtyard where she and her family lived. The door of the house was secured with only a simple hook.  A Cossack tried to throw off the hook with his saber, but Fira suspended herself on the hook to prevent him from unlatching it. The Cossack then broke the window with his saber and went away.


Grisha Ar


Grigory (Grisha) Arenberg

Grigory Mikhailovich Arenberg (known to family and friends as Grisha) was born in 1897 in Mariupol, Ukraine, the first son of Moisei and Zhenia Arenberg. He received his education as a youth in Tiraspol and then went on to study law in Odessa. In 1923 he went to live in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. He was known as an outstanding jurist, pedagogue and public figure, though he worked mostly as an educator. In 1925 Grisha married Sara, herself from Tiraspol. In 1935, he and his family moved to Tashkent where he worked as a lawyer, eventually becoming director of the Juridical Institute there. His reputation as a specialist and person was irreproachable. His motto in life was "hurry to make good."
Grisha was described under the surname of Gorin in a book written by one of his former students:
"He also possesses strong, horn-rimmed spectacles. He stands them on his massive nose to read the paper with the introductory portion of his next lecture...We understood well Grigory Mikhailovich who was reading from the paper the boring verbiage and were awaiting with impatience the cherished minute when the professor will take off his spectacles and come to a concrete analysis of this or that clause of the criminal law. He literally transformed himself. There was standing behind the chair a completely other person--inspired erudite, mordant and witty man. The professor illustrated his comments with exact examples from court practice. There was no decent silence at the lectures of Professor Gorin. He constantly asked us sly questions, requiring answers to them, talking to us as if we were his equals. He taught us what was important, to treat with respect a person under investigation (respect should be shown because even if a person is under  criminal investigation, he should not necessarily be considered to be a criminal, as he might very well be cleared after an investigation...)"

When Grigory Mikhailovich Arenberg passed away in the summer of 1968, it was 42 degrees Celsius (nearly 108 degrees Fahrenheit.) Thousands of people came to say goodbye to him. A military orchestra accompanied this purely civil man. During the ceremony it was said that the family of Grigory Mikhalovich Arenberg was a notable phenomenon in the life of the Republic, and that he played a role in the cultural and law context of the time which will be appreciated in future years. He loved people, and the memory of him is still alive..."

Grisha's niece remembers her uncle:
“ When I think of my Uncle Grisha, I always imagine his good-hearted, smiling face. He used to tell us stories about his life and his lawyer’s practice. Both he and his brother Shura used to joke about everyday life subjects. This is called in the family “the Arenberg's humor." 
Uncle Grisha had a very good family. In the autumn 1941, in the same two rooms at the same time, there lived in addition to aunt Sara and their two sons, one or two families of relatives that had been evacuated from Moscow and Moldova, along with other friends, all
refugées from different places. There was a time when, in addition to their own family, there lived in the same two rooms ten people. One of them was a wounded young soldier whom aunt Sara took from the hospital, his mother eventually traveling from Tajikistan to meet with her son. I remember that this house was encircled by a wooden balcony and the services were in the court.”


Moisei in Sa


Moisei and Family in Samarkand

Moisei's wife Zhenia passed away in Tiraspol in 1926. Four years later he married Anna, a woman more than thirty years younger, who used to work with him as a  photograph retoucher. Wishing to be closer to his sons, Moisei with his family moved to Samarkand in the early 1930s. There they raised two children, Moliere (aka Molik/Pavel) and Rollan (aka Lana.)
In Samarkand, Moisei worked in state-run studios ("photo atelier"). The first one was in poor condition, but the second one he worked in was much better and was named “Rembrandt.”  This second studio of Moisei was in the center of Samarkand and became very popular. It was Moisei's way to retouch each negative before printing it on paper. It should be noted that not only had he well represented his own family's history photographically, but did so for many other families as well.


Group Photographs


Group Photographs

A family story, as told by Alic, the son of Grisha, to another family member:
Grisha told of an incident that had occurred in 1916 that made a very painful impression on the family. Once there came to Moisei’s studio a high-ranking officer of the Czarist army, obviously a bit inebriated, and asked Moisei in a rude manner to make photos for him immediately. Moisei explained politely that the execution of such an order requires a certain amount of time to produce. The drunken officer hurled back his retort: 'You dare object to my request, you, the Judas mug' … Moisei called his sons into the room. They stopped this hooligan and took away his saber and showed him out the door, though they realized how badly this could turn out for them.  Some time later, there appeared at the studio the officer’s aide who made excuses for the officer, retrieved the saber, and asked that nobody speak further of this incident. "


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