Friday, July 18, 2014

CHICAGO'S MATZOH KING - Levy Wittenberg

As I have mentioned before, Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois has many beautiful and distinctive monuments.  I have featured some of the more interesting monuments in this blog, but Waldheim has its share of unusual monuments as well.  Such is the case at Gate 45 - Kovner. Wandering around on a bleak winter day in February of 2012 fulfilling Find a Grave photo requests I happened upon this unusual monument:


As you can see, there is a bust of a solemn looking man at the top. Below that it says:

Levy Wittenberg
Died June 12, 1907

Donated
From
L. Wittenberg
to the
Congregation
Auel Jacob
1899

I had a feeling that there might be an interesting story here and I was right.  Let's see what we can "dig up" about Levy (also spelled "Levi") Wittenberg, Chicago's matzoh king.

Levy Wittenberg was born in Kolnich, Russia in February of 1850 to Israel Wittenberg and Sara, nee Cohen.  We know that Levy had at least two siblings, Abraham (1865-1934) and Isaac (1880-1937) because they sued Levy for libel in 1903 - but more on that later.  Levy Wittenberg came to the United States in 1880 and settled first in New York and then finally in Chicago.  

While still living in Russia, Levi Wittenberg married Gitel (Katie) nee Newman (1850-1940) circa 1870 while both were twenty years old. Katie told the census taker in 1900 that she had given birth to seven children, and all seven were still alive at that time.  Here they are:

Louis (1870-1915), born in Russia
Hyman (1873-1911), born in Russia
Leah (1875-1945), born in Russia
Ida (1879-1912), born in New York
Levi/Harry (1885-1979), born in New York
Moses/Morry (1888-1975), born in Chicago
Alexander (1889-1941), born in Chicago.  Alexander used the surname "Witte"

In later years Levy said that he had moved to Chicago in 1883 but that is unlikely unless he came out to Chicago ahead of the rest of his family.

Levy Wittenberg became a naturalized US citizen on October 17, 1890.

No matter when he actually arrived, Levi quickly established himself as one of the top Jewish bakers in Chicagoland.  Here is a photo of Wittenberg's bakery, circa 1900:


Levi Wittenberg was not without his share of controversy.  The following article appeared in the Chicago Daily Tribune on June 30, 1903:

TWO BROTHERS SUE A THIRD
Charge Him With Libel in Issuing Circulars Attacking Their Business Integrity.

Three brothers are complainants and defendant in a libel case brought before Justice Richardson yesterday.  Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, bakers at 529 Jefferson street, charging Levy Wittenberg with libel. The trouble started shortly before the Passover feast in April.  The matzos for the feast were bought from Abraham and Isaac Wittenberg, at a reduced price.  Then, it is charged, Levy Wittenberg issued circulars of a libelous character, attacking the quality of the food sold by his brothers.  One circular stated:

"Do not buy from them what are called matzos, while in fact when you open the bundle you find the broken fragments of various food articles."

According to the complainants, the circulars were intended to attack their honest.  Justice Richardson continued the case until July 9th.

It is not recorded how the case turned out, but Levy Wittenberg's bakery was still producing and selling matzoh long after the founder was gone:


Now what about the monument that piqued my interest in the first place?


As I mentioned, at the top is a bust of a stern faced man.  Lower down it says "Levy Wittenberg, Died June 12, 1907" and then "Donated From L. Wittenberg to the Congregation Auel Jacob 1899."

Is the bust at the top a bust of Levy Wittenberg?  Here's his photo, and a closeup of the bust - judge for yourself:



I'm afraid that my research has hit a brick wall here.  I could not find anything about the Congregation Auel Jacob, past or present, nor could I find anything about Levy Wittenberg donating a monument or a bust of anyone.

Levy Wittenberg did die on June 12, 1907 at home, 580 N. Canal Street, from lobar pneumonia complicated by diabetes.  According to his death certificate he was fifty-eight years old:


As I mentioned above, he was buried at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois at Gate 45 - Kovner.  In addition to the imposing monument, his grave is also marked with a more conventional tombstone:


So the mystery of the monument "Donated from L. Wittenberg to the Congregation Auel Jacob in 1899" will have to remain a mystery for now.  Maybe one of my readers will have some information that will solve the mystery for us.  One of the frustrating parts of genealogical research is that there are some mysteries that never are solved; some questions that are never answered. But that's what makes it so much fun, as well.

Levy Wittenberg, Chicago's Matzoh King - may he rest in peace.  

3 comments:

  1. Hi Jim, I am a great great granddaughter of Levi Wittenberg. I'd like to connect with you. I also have additional information. Please contact me at LoraPerl@aol.com.

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  2. Thanks for this info... he is my great great grandfather! Interestingly, the synagogue on the stone is likely Congregation Ohel Jacob Anshe Kovna (or Congregation Anshe Kovna for short). The original address was somewhere at or near the W. Peoria and 14th Place intersection with a second location (and picture of the building on Flickr) at 1448 S Homan Ave. I would be interested to hear more from you about this, and apparently need to talk with my cousin Lora about the family records!

    Thanks for the story!
    Jason

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    Replies
    1. Jason, he was your great great great grandfather. ;-)

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