From Szepsel to Shabtai

Do you come from the SZTAJNBERG or STEINBERG family? And are you a member of the ROSENZWEIG or ROZENCWAJG family? Is it possible that members of the same family spelled their last names differently? Today it may seem unlikely, but the truth is that until not long ago there was no one correct way of spelling a name.

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Srul Nachman Lubelczyk z żoną Chaną Złatą w Czyżewie

Before computerized systems came into use, names were spelled differently at different occasions. One of the main reasons for changing the spelling of a name is a geographical one. Certain spelling corresponds with certain languages and cultures. People moving from place to place often had to adjust their names – first and last — to their new places of residence. That’s how Hersz could become Harry in the United State of America, Tzvi in Israel or Enrique in Argentina. But this goes even further. Just like today, someone moving from a smaller town to the big city may also take the opportunity to reinvent themselves. That’s how the same Hersz from earlier could become Henryk, Moszek could be Maurycy and Chaja became Helena.

Two photos we received from one of our guests are a perfect example. Srul-Nachman LUBELCZYK was a labor in the small town of Czyżew, where he lived with his wife and children. His son Szepsel was born there in June of 1900. In 1919, the family moved to Warsaw, the capital of the newly-independent Poland, following relatives who already settled in the city. Not long after, Szepsel was recruited to the Polish army, like other young men his age. In 1929 he married Ewa BRILL and the same year the couple left to Bogota, Colombia to join his brother. Szepsel LUBELCZYK became Sebastian LUBELCHIK. Tragically, Ewa passed away giving birth to their first and only daughter shortly after. Years later Szepsel left South America, this time for Israel, where naturally, he became Shabtai LUBELCHIK. The first photo shows Srul-Nachman LUBELCZYK and his wife Chana-Złata back in Czyżew. A young Orthodox Jewish couple dressed in a rather traditional manner. The next photo, taken probably not more than 5 years later shows the family already in Warsaw. It’s easy to notice that drastic change in the family’s fashion choices.

The parents and children are all dressed in modern European attire. The fur hat and clumsy coat have been replaced with a bowler-hat, bowtie, and suit. Most interesting are the signatures and inscriptions surrounding the photo. Szpesel, who must have been somewhat historically aware, did not want his own story to be lost in translation along with his migration. The original inscriptions in Polish and Yiddish were later translated by him into Spanish – „My family LUBELCZYK, Warsaw, 1922”. He also signed his name numerous times, representing his different names and identities which he carried with him throughout the years – „Szepsel LUBELCZYK, Warszawa; Sebastian LUBELCHIK, Bogota; Shabtai LUBELCHIK, Naharya.”

One person can have many identities in one lifetime, sometimes even more than one at a time. Being aware of these changes is the key to understanding the people, and that really is the most important thing.

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