Gitel Wertel (1887 – 1943?)

Gitel WERTEL was a younger sister of my great-grandmother, Sarah WERTEL OCHOROWICZ (OCHOWITZ). From what I can tell, Sarah had six siblings born between 1882 – her only older sibling, Moshe Wertel – and the youngest sister, Genia, born in 1902. A large range, but not unusual for the time.  Sarah and Abe OCHOROWICZ , in fact, were married a year before Genia was born.


Photo of Gitel Wertel from the Helios Photography Studio, Warsaw, probably about 1910.

Gitel was the fourth child, the next youngest daughter after Sarah, and perhaps for that reason they were close.  After Sarah married in 1901 and immigrated to the United States in 1904, the only contact Gitel and Sarah would have had was through letters.

My grandmother, Sarah’s daughter, recalled that when she was a child, Sarah became ill, and that Gitel had come over from Poland for a while to help take care of the family. This always seemed a little strange to me; if Sarah had become that ill, would she really have sent to Poland for her sister, whom she she had not seen in two decades?

Far more recently, I discovered the truth – or much of it, in any case. Gitel left on the SS La Lorraine, traveling from La Havre, France to New York, on 16 April 1921, arriving in the US 25 April. From there, I expect she would have taken another day or two to catch a train down to Charleston.

On 22 April, with Gitel en route, Sarah’s youngest child, Gerald, died at age three in a horrible kitchen accident involving boiling water to be used for the wash. No doubt Abe and Sarah were devastated, and thus my grandmother’s recollection of her mother being “very sick”.

It’s unclear how long Gitel stayed with the family, but after a few weeks or months, she returned to Warsaw, to get married by my grandmother’s recollection.  Gitel was 34 or 35 by this time, and quite the “old maid” by standards of the day. If she was getting married, the surname of her husband has been lost.

Sarah and Gitel kept in touch by post through the the 20s and 30s, but lost contact when Poland was invaded in 1939. The family tried to reestablish contact after the war, but none of the Wertel siblings or family were found. None of the earlier letters had been kept, and only this one photograph remains.


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