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    THE HAIM & MAZAL AMINOFF FAMILY ESCAPE FROM UZBEKISTAN TO THE UNITED STATES - 1918 to 1922


    The Aminovs never passed down exactly how the family migrated to Bukhara or Samarkand. Maybe they were never told. There are no records to research as to how the Aminov family first came to this part of the world. The information that we have on the David Aminov family was from Yitzhak Aminov, a cousin, who is the Chief Rabbi of the Bukharian Community in Israel. Most of the ancestors of the Aminov family originally came from Persia to Central Asia sometime in the 16th or 17th Century. Sometime in the 1870s, the migration of Jews from Bukhara to the nearby cities of Samarkand, Tashkent and others began.

    Around the late 1830's, many refugees from Meshad, Persia, who fled in the wake of the riots that took place there on May 25, 1839, when they were forced to convert to Islam, were absorbed into the Bukhara and Samarkand communities. Thanks to the efforts of the Emir who opened the gates of Bukhara to the refugees. Many of them influenced the spiritual life of Bukhara's Jews, while those who sought a different atmosphere that was more liberal, emigrated to Samarkand as time went on. Simultaneously, the Samarkand community developed into one of merchants, while the Meshad natives were totally assimilated and also occupied important positions in the community's leadership.The Jews migrated eastward from Persia to Central Asia, with many settling the Emirate of Bukhara, part of the Persian Empire. The Persians were good to the Jews, even though they were Moslems, they are not Arabs. The Emir of Bukhara reported to the King of Persia. The principal city of the Emirate of Bukhara was the city of Bukhara, where this story of the Aminov family begins.

    The Aminov family, as we know it, started with Bnyiman (Benjamin) and Tispora Aminov in Bukhara. Bnyiamin was born in 1840, but little information was available about Siporro’s family or her family name. The best research that has been found to date, is that Siporro’s father was Rabbi Pinchas Ha-Katan. The Aminovs lived in a predominantly Moslem country, In fact, most of all Central Asia was Moslem.

    Byniamin and Siporro had 6 children: Haim, David, Yaakov, Yitzak, Abraham, and Sarah, all born in Bukhara (Aminoff Lineage). Haim Aminov left his family in Bukhara and moved to Samarkand for unknown reasons in the mid 1890s where he met and married Mazal Maman (who according to our research is Haim’s Cousin). The Maman family, which had come originally from Spain to Israel to Persia, settled in the City of Samarkand, where Mazal was born. The Haim Aminov family lived in Samarkand in a predominately Moslem country. During the early times the family was fairly well-to-do. Today (2007), Samarkand is located in the country called Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is an odd shaped geographical area that is bordered by Kazakhstan on the north, Turkmenistan on the west, by Tajikistan on the east, and by Afghanistan on the south. Also huddled into this geographical area, which is referred to as Central Asia, are - Iran, Pakistan, India and western China:


    Map of Central Asia

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version. ①= Samarkand, ②= Bukhara)


    Samarkand is the second largest city of Uzbekistan. It is the capital of Tamerlane and is the same age as Babylon or Rome and one of the most ancient cities in the world. Archeological finds and historians, have established that Samarkand has been inhabited many thousands of years ago, In ancient times the earliest mention of Samarkand was that of Marakand, around 329 B.C., but other information states that it was founded around 700 B.C.

    With the latest archeological finds, scientists have concluded that Samarkand was quite a developed city around 6 B.C. During its history, Samarkand was ravaged by Greek-Macedonians, hordes of cruel Karakitays, the destructive invasion of fanatic Arabic commanders, the followers of Islam religion founder Mohammed and bloody hordes of Chigiz-han.

    Samarkand prospered from its location in the trade route between China and Europe (the Silk Road). The first paper mill in the Islamic world was founded in Samarkand. The City came under Russian rule in 1868 when it was taken by force by an army led by Colonel Alexander Abramov.

    Today (2007) Samarkand, like most cities of Central Asia, is a city divided into two parts – old and new. The population today of Samarkand is about 500,000. It is a multinational city where more than 100 nationalities live.

    The Haim Aminov family lived and owned a large farm of about 7 acres in the outskirts of Samarkand. Haim Aminov, was a merchant who traveled the Silk Road bringing Bukharian rugs and woven silk textiles and silver to China where he would sell them. He would then buy raw silk thread and other Chinese products which he would bring back to Bukhara and sell them there. He and his wife Mazal Aminov (Maman), lived in Samarkand with their 6 children, Ralph, Michael, Gabe, Daniel, Frieda and Doris, and Frieda's two children, David and Freddy (Frieda's husband had already passed away at the age of twenty-one). This photo is from around 1923:


    Haim Mazal & Children

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version)

    Top Row- from left to right: Michael, Doris, Freida, Ralph, and Danny. Bottom Row – left to right Freddie (Frieda’s son), Mazal, David (Frieda’s son), Haim, and Gabe.


    Note that Danny Aminoff had lived in Kobe, Japan in the 1950s doing garment trading. He was treated by the U.S. physician Dr. Fred Shane in Kobe for a heart condition and Dr. Shane attended to Danny when he died in Kobe in the 50s. Dr. Shane later moved his practice to Tokyo and became a close associate of Doug Berger's starting in the mid-1990s.

    At the start of the Russian revolution, in the early 1900s, Haim was still traveling back and forth to China. In 1914, while on a trip, Haim had been caught in Japan during the outbreak of the First World War, and could not return to Samarkand, so he proceeded on to the United States, landing first in Seattle then onto Chicago and New York. Haim did not speak a word of English. Circumstances of the Revolution would follow, that Haim was informed by his family by mail, not to come back to his home in Samarkand. Here the events started that led to the migration of the Haim Aminov family to America.

    Sometime in 1918, a local member of the Komsomol (Soviet Youth) came to the family farm to tell the Aminovs that they would no longer own the farm. The government wanted to confiscate the farm and take it over because the Aminovs had the farm producing more than most other farms. The crops were wheat, cotton, cocaine and marijuana (all legal) were sold in the marketplace (bazaar) in Samarkand. The Aminovs took their portion of the profit from the farm and then shared the rest of the profits with all their workers. They sold the cotton to merchants that had factories to process the cotton.

    The languages spoken at the time were both Russian and Farsi, with some Bukharian (which was a dialect of Farsi). Samarkand was about 10% Jewish and had a mixture of Jews and Moslems that got along very well. There were not many Christians in the city. Most of the difficulties of living there were with the government.

    Lenin, the Russian President, starting instituting agrarian reforms as this time. "Revolutionary" workers started moving into Samarkand. Freedoms were starting to be controlled; the government wanted 15%-20% for taxes. Sometimes in order to make up the percentage the government wanted, the Aminovs had to buy and sell on the black market. If you did not pay the government the percentage they requested, they put you in jail. There was a system of laws, but very little crime in the city.

    At times the Government would take over the Aminov farm house for meetings, but would not allow the Aminovs to attend the meetings. At one point the government offered Michael Aminov a Commissar position and they would put him in charge of 200 soldiers. He would be responsible to eradicate terrorists for any anti-Soviet activity. Also, aound that time the Aminovs were robbed by the local terrorists. Mazal Aminov, the family's matriarch, would not let Michael take the position and said that it was time for the family to leave the country. Even Frieda Aminov, Michael's sister was concerned for his life, when one day she was in the Bazaar and was told by friends that the local Communist party had targeted Michael and planned to kill him and other members of the family.

    Michael was very mad at the robberies, but the rest of the Aminov siblings were more passive and did not want to get involved. Frieda was corresponding with her father who was in the U.S. at this time and Haim sent a Visa for the entire family to come to America. As the situation with government and Michael worsened, they took all their valuable belongs and left the farm and house to an Uncle. All this just before the Russian Revolution started. Many Ashkenazim¹ and Safardim² were involved in the Revolution.

    The Aminovs gathered up things of value such as silver, rugs, silks, precious stones and gold to take with them. The gold was hidden in bars of soap, for every town that they entered on their trip had a customs inspection. All the items of value were used to trade for goods and food for survival. They bribed a local guard to let them travel with the train to Constantinople, Turkey. During their travels from Samarkand to Bat'umi (on the Black Sea), they had to cope with more than ten different currencies. They used gold, Russian money and American money, which they had received from Haim in America.

    When the Aminovs left Samarkand, they traveled in a “red wagon”.“The wagon was attached to a train that traveled on tracks. The trains were very crowded and there were many invalids on the train. There were also many soldiers on the train.” – according to a story related by Michael Aminov. Michael told a high ranking officer that they were Jewish and the officer said they should not mention this. The officer then took the Aminovs into his car on the train.

    At the next train station stop, the Aminovs got off to buy wine for their canteens. When they came back to the train, their wagon was disengaged from the train by the soldiers and the train had left, leaving them stranded.

    The Aminovs traveled west for 1-2 days from Samarkand to Bukhara. Here they stayed with relatives before moving onto Merv in Turkmenistan. Again they stopped to visit and stay with a large family of relatives. From Merv they went to Ashgabat and onto Turkmenbashi, a seaport on the Caspian sea:


    Exodus Map

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version)


    This portion of the trip took months. They then took a boat from the seaport of Krasnovodskiy, across the Caspian Sea to the seaport of Baku in Azerbaijan. The entire boat trip took about 2-3 days. The were boarded in the hold of the boat. Most of the trip over land was in crowded trains.

    Before they got to Bar'tumi, they stopped in Tbilisi, Georgia. Here Ralph and his grandfather were to get documents from the Consulate to travel to Turkey. The Aminovs had 3 old Russian passports that they had used to get them to this point. While in Tbilisi, they bought forged Afghanistan passports to get to Turkey and eventually to America. These were issued by the French Government under the “Lese passé” (a recognized travel document which is always a Passport for Outboard Pass issued by a concerned Embassy for one way travel).”

    On the boat from Bar'tumi, Georgia to Istanbul, Turkey, they traveled in the baggage hold. The Aminovs lived in Istanbul, in the Jewish community in the old section of the city. For the next 3 months, they lived on the black market, with gold and the American dollar. In the other part of the city, called Constantinople (Istanbul), which was the new section, lived the rich people. Living was very peaceful as both Jews and Moslems got along very well. The Aminovs lived and worked in Turkey until they had enough money to travel to America.

    In Istanbul, the Aminovs traded and sold rugs to survive. Most of the way to Istanbul, the Aminovs spoke Russian and the Persian language. They also spoke some Hebrew, which they learned in a Hebrew school in Russia from an Israeli teacher. During the entire trip, the Aminov children did not go to school nor were they taught. Their education was still ahead of them...in America.

    In Istanbul, Turkey, in 1922, they boarded the King Alexander for the trip to America:


    The King Alexander Ship

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version)


    Their accommodations on the ship were in the steerage area of the ship..the bowels of the boat with other Jews and poor immigrants. The ship made stops in Athens and Algiers. This allowed the Aminovs a few hours to get off to see how others lived. Then the cruise continued to America, non-stop. The ship arrived at Ellis Island on July 1, 1922. The were all interned at the Ellis Island Center until July 5th, when Haim, who was now an American citizen, came to get them. Click here to see a copy of Haim's naturalization document from 1922.

    Though the name in Russian is Aminov, when the family arrived in Ellis Island they were recorded as Aminof. They later added the second “f”, which is an anglicized version of the suffix, “ov”, which means son of.


    Exodus Map

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version)


    All the ages of the children were falsified, in order that Haim could tell the authorities that his children were born in America. They were naturalized in absentia legally under Haim’s citizenship. Mazal, not being born in the U.S, was not considered a U.S. citizen……until much later.

    They then left Ellis Island and went with Haim to Brooklyn, where he had rented an apartment (18th Ave.). They got to the apartment on Thursday and the very next Monday, Frieda, Michael and Doris went to work sewing slippers in a slipper factory. Ralph went to work with Haim in the fur district. The others were to young to work and Mazal did not want them to work. During this time the entire family started to study and learn to speak English, in order to exist in this new country.

    The slipper factory was on Long Island and the train ride took 1½ hours each way. They had to get up a 5:00AM to get to work. But on Saturdays, being the Sabbath, Mazal who very religious, forbid any of her family to go to work.

    The rest is history of this amazing family and their exodus during very trying times.


    Notes –

    ¹Ashkenazi Jews were descended from medieval Jewish communities of the Rhineland.“Ashkenaz” being the medieval Hebrew name for Germany. Later, many Jews migrated eastward forming Jewish communities in several other eastern European countries, between the 10th and 19th centuries.

    ²Sephardic Jews are a subgroup of Jews originating in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain & Portugal).

    In general, most of the information relating to Haim and Mazal Aminoff and the exodus of the Aminoff family from Samarkand to America are from a 1977 tape recording by their son, Michael Aminoff, furnished by his son Cary. Other items of interest about the Aminoff family were related by another son, Daniel Aminoff, many years ago to his son Gary, and still other information was told by their daughter Doris Aminoff, to her daughter, Sandra, in the 1960s.

    The Photo of David Aminoff's family (Haim's brother) in Bukhara was furnished by Dalia Aminoff, David’s Aminov's Great-Great Granddaughter:


    David Aminoff Family 1914

    (Click on the image to see an expanded version)


    This is the type of dress that the family wore during the 1800s, when this photo was taken. The white bearded gentleman in the middle of the photograph is David Aminov, Haim Aminov's brother. The Moslems wore similar outfits.

    Much information about the family lineage was researched from the History of the Bukharian Rabbis, as many of the men in the family were Rabbis. This research provided a wealth of information on who descended from whom and who was married to whom, even though there are the usual gaps and even inconsistencies in historical data.

    The term “Mullah”used on the family tree, originated from the Islamic term, but the definition is “a male religious teacher or leader”. In the era of this story, many Rabbis were called “mullah”.

    Spelling of the several names varies all over the place, so I have taken editorial liberty to use the spellings that I found most common in my research.

    Lastly, the effort in gathering, reading, listening, researching and compiling the historic data about Samarkand, the geographical area, and taking literary license in putting some reasonable semblance to this saga, was done by Burt Berger, Doris Aminoff's son-in-law, starting in July of 2007 and continuing through October 2007 with numerous e-mails between Burt Berger, Gary Aminoff, Cary Aminoff, and Gary Mamon. This story has been primarily a collaborative effort of these four cousins of the Aminoff-Maman history.

    Other Aminoff Photos


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