Monday, August 9, 2010
The Great Fire of Skala
I am in the final stages of writing a family memoir, The Memory Of All That. In my father's OSS personnel files, of all places, I have discovered information about his parents' origins that I never knew before. My grandfather Samuel Kaufman, a grocer, hailed from Rowno, Poland. My grandmother, Pauline Gottesfeld Kaufman, hailed from Skala in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a town which has had a 20th century odyssey of its own without ever moving, as it was then (1887) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but over the century was part of Poland, then part of the USSR, until 1990, when Ukraine was made independent, and so today it is in Ukraine.
In reading about Skala, I learned that there was a huge exodus of the Jewish population as a consequence of "the Great Fire of Skala" in 1899. The Gottesfelds arrived in America in 1900. Given that my novel Triangle has at its heart the Triangle waist company factory fire of 1911, I regret not having awareness that for a number of immigrants, some of whom were no doubt present that terrible day in March of 1911, there was a bitter irony, fleeing one fire only to meet this historic fire in the land of opportunity.