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Updated on November 1, 2008

A brief Family History

Family Tree and Family history - FPS – Family PERNICK

– 100 years in the USA

The origins of the name PERNICK: 

There were several theories "floated" over the years - Ben's (Sidor) favorite was that there was a connection with Copernicus (the famous astronomer).  There is also a town in Bulgaria called Pernick and there are those who wish to make the connection that the town must have been the place of origin of one of the family ancestors.  As far as I can ascertain there are no proofs for either of the above stories.  Most of Eastern European Jews did not get family names until the early 19th century. Most of the time family names were assigned by (usually hostile) census takers or government officials.  If you were lucky, well to do or had money for a bribe you could "purchase" a nice family name, if not well you took what the official gave you!   Accord to Alexander Beider in his book "A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire" the name Pernick (original spelling was Pernik) means (in Russian) a ginger bread or molasses cake.  Families with the name were centered in Brest Litovsk and Chaussy.  

Founding Family Members (of our branch):  They were all the offspring of Eliezar Pernik and Devora Baila Greenstein.  (I shall go into the history of the Greenstein and Feinberg ancestors of Devora Baila later).  There were 11 children in the family only 8 of whom made it to adulthood (and to the USA).  Leah - born 1869, Max (Mordecai) - born 1873, Markel - born c. 1874, Joseph - born 1881, Zahle - born c. 1882 (died in childhood), Maya - born c. 1883 (died in childhood), Benjamin - born 1885, Abraham - born 1890, Michael born 1892 and Lazar - born 1893 (the mother was pregnant when the father past away - Lazar died in childhood). 

Earliest known Pernik:  The earliest member of the family who had the name Pernik was one (Abraham?) Wolf Pernik of Brest Litovsk born c.1820.  Uncle Abe (Pernick) wrote in one of the early Chatterboxes (the family newsletter which was published several times each year) about Wolf and Bella Pernick's 5 children:  Hershel Leib, Eliezar (our ancestor), Mortcha, Rifka and Goldy 

Regarding Wolf Pernick - he was in the Leather business - shoe tops.  He and his son Mordko appear on the 1907 (Russian Empire) voter list.  It is said that he and his wife were cousins (???) - not an unusual circumstance in the early Pernick history!  They were not particularly well to do. 

Their eldest son Hershel Leib (Harry) married Chinki - they had 6 children - Israel, Molly, Moshe, Morton, Gittle and Rebecca.  Many of these Pernicks and their families perished in the Holocaust (more about them and their families at a later time). 

There is also a large family of Pernicks (the "Detroit Branch") who are descendants of Naftali Hertz (Hersh) Pernick.  I have not (as yet) been able to establish a solid link with them but they do come from Brest Litovsk and can trace their ancestry to the Katzenellenbogen family (and Saul Wahl - King of Poland for a day).  According to my father (Seymour Sidor z"l) Zaide (Markel Pernick) used to insist that our Pernicks were descended from the Katzenellenbogens!  So somewhere there "must" be a connection. 

Our ancestor Eliezar Pernik was born c. 1850.  According to several stories he was a brilliant Torah Scholar.  As a matter of fact he was said to have been the tops in the Yeshiva.  Back then wealthy merchants wanted only the best mates for their daughters and in that day the best of the best were the Torah Scholars.  So when Mayer Shmuel Greenstein (a very wealthy man - more about him and the Greenstein connections later) looked for a suitable match for his eldest daughter he chose "only the best", Eliezar Pernik.  He set the new couple up on their own farm (Devorah Baila is said to have run the "estate") outside of Brest Litovsk.  It was there that the 11 children were born. 

Tragically Eliezar died fairly young c. 1893 (at age 43) leaving a pregnant widow and 7 (still single) orphans!  ("Tante" Leah had married Abraham Lidsky in 1891 and was already living on her own farm - see Lou Lidsky's narrative later).   It is said that Devorah Baile passed away soon thereafter, Leah and Abe took in all her brothers (they all called her "little mother").  

The end of the 19th century was an extremely turbulent time especially in Russia.  Jews suffered from persecution and pogroms.  It was official Russian Government policy to have 1/3 of the Jews convert, 1/3 die, and 1/3 emigrate!  One means of persecution was the Russian Army and the draft!  All young men were eligible (but usually a bribe of 300 rubles, a small fortune, could fix things).  It was at this time that several of the orphaned Pernick boys came of age!  Markel and Max married (hoping to avoid the draft).  Markel (now a married man in 1901) was taken into the army anyway and the draft officials sent for Joe and Ben!  Joseph (who had "golden hands" and a way with machinery) left Russia for Prussia where he learned to be a skilled machinist.  Benjamin was due to be taken when somehow the family raised the 300 ruble bribe.   The Russo-Japanese war was in full swing! Russia lost and the 1905 Revolution occurred!!  It was at this juncture that the family decided it was time to get out of Russia and head to "The Golden Medina" (the Golden Land) the USA.  The first (according to US immigration records) to arrive was Joe (1906) followed by Max and Ben (1907) and then Leah with her 3 youngest brothers and her own 4 children following soon thereafter.  Markel (who was then in the Russian Army) and his wife Pesha Baila were left behind (only to rejoin the rest of the family after WW I).  

According to my records at the first FPS meeting Abe was 20, Jack 18 and Mike 16!  But the real moving force behind it all was Leah (age 39) who wanted the "Family" to stay together in the 'new country'!


 Excerpts from articles by Uncle Abe in the Chatterbox:

Abe Lidsky and Leah were married in Europe.  They had a farm in NEPOKOITETZ 2 miles from Lazar and Bella across the river in PETROVITZ.  Leah’s nick name was “Parrie Abramoda” (“little mother”).  In 1904 Max went to Warsaw to be the superintendent of a candy factory. Max married in Kiev.  Lazar died c. 1894 and Leah took in Abe (age 5 ½ , Mike (age 1 ½ ) , Ben and Jack (age 3 ½).  C. 1901 Markel and Joseph were inducted into the army.  Their mother died when Abe was 11 ½ .   Before the army Joseph had gone to Brest Litovsk to learn the trade of Locksmith.  After the Russo-Japanese war Joseph went to Germany where he stayed for about 6 months.  Ben was also inducted into the army but didn’t serve. 

To the USA Joseph Dec 11, 1904 / Ben Dec 25, 1904 / Leah with her 4 children, Jack and Abe June 1906 / Max with 3 children and Michael 1907. 

According to another source:  Mike and Jack arrived in the USA April or June 1907.  Joseph was 69 when he passed away in June 1949.  Lazar died when Joe was 11 (c. 1891).  At age 12 Joe went (was sent?) to Warsaw to learn a trade. 

Markel was a Furrier by trade but due to Asthma had to discontinue working and changed trades.  Edith Pernick came to the USA in 1921 with Markel.  Lou Pernick went first to Argentina and then came to the USA.  Avraham came to the USA with his mother Pesha Baila in 1927. 

DOCUMENTS:  From Declaration of Intent of Louis Pernick: age 20 in 1922.  Working as a salesman.  Born in Kiev Dec 31, 1901.  In 1922 lived at 274 Central Ave., Bklyn, NY.  Arrived in the USA on board the TRAVE from Bremen Germany March 11, 1907.  The two “sponsors” from March 12, 1925 were Celia Hoffberg, stenographer, living at 158 East 113th Street, NY, NY and Rose Manowitz, housewife, living at 1665 Weeks Ave, Bronx, NY. 

Declaration of Intent of Max (Markus) Pernik, age 49 in 1922, a storekeeper.  Born in Warsaw, Russia June 14, 1873.  In 1922 lived at 229 Central Ave., Bklyn, NY.  Arrived in the USA on board the TRAVE from Bremen Germany March 11, 1907. [came together with Louis].  The two sponsors from November 1st, 1918 were Mary Bernard, housewife, living at 55 Thompkins Ave, Brooklyn, NY, and Adele Lukin Pernick, housewife, living at 124 Hooper Street, Brooklyn, NY.  He registered 7 children – Louis born Dec 31, 1901 in Russia - Bella born March 4, 1905 in Russia – Henry born August 22, 1907 in Bklyn., NY – Rose born October 1, 1909 in Bklyn., NY – Sylvia born September 13, 1912 in Bklyn., NY – Miriam born July 15,1917 in Bklyn., NY – Jesse born July 20, 1920 in Bklyn., NY- 

Some biographical stories:  AUNT MINNIE 

Minnie Zaret Pernick (Mina Jarret) - parents Moshe and Bashe Zaretsky – she claimed relation to the past Israel leader Moshe Zaret.  She was born March 12, 1884 in Steplev, Russia.  She traveled to the USA with her sister and father in 1901 aboard the Lusitania (story to follow).  She met and married Joseph Pernick in the USA on October 26, 1906.  She was a strong willed and determined woman and played a major role in the success of her husband and his business ventures. 

I had the pleasure of personally interviewing Aunt Minnie many years ago and she told me the story of her arrival in the USA.  Here is her story: 

In 1901 my father took me and my sister to go to the USA. We were going first to Canada then on to the USA.  We traveled in the summer.  Toward the end of the journey there was a terrible storm.  Suddenly there was a loud noise and the whole ship shook.  My father took us up on deck and there we saw the iceberg!  There was panic on the deck.  The sailors had to shoot.  My father placed me on a lifeboat as it was being lowered.  When we reached the water the sailors rapidly rowed away from the ship.  I saw another boat being lowered and saw my sister on it.  The ship was beginning to list.  On the deck I saw my father.  I saw him jump off the sinking boat into the stormy water, but I didn’t see him come up again!  I then saw the boat carrying my sister turn over!  And I did not see my sister come up.  Soon thereafter my boat was also turned over.  I managed to hold on and barely avoided drowning myself.  Luckily we were not too far from shore when the accident occurred.  I was terribly upset, having lost my loved ones.  I reached shore all wet and cold.  I was taken, with other survivors to the city (HS: possibly Toronto??)  After a few days I was able to go to HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) to see if I could locate the relatives my father had spoken of seeing in Canada.  I had very little spirit left in me.  When I arrived there was a very long line.  I looked up the line and there saw someone who looked familiar.  When I got closer I realized it was my sister, whom I thought drowned.  There was a tearful reunion.  She also had seen our poor father go do and not come up.  It was a very bittersweet reunion.  We reached the front of the line and luckily were able to locate the relatives.  We arrived at their house.  There was someone sitting “shiva” (mourning the death of a relative – a jewish tradition).  I guessed it was not a good time to “drop in” on relatives but we had no where to go so we went in.  There sitting on the floor was my father!  He was mourning the loss of his two daughters (US!)!!  There was a joyous reunion… 

That is the story, more or less, as Aunt Minnie told it to me.  Not knowing Aunt Minnie very well I thought she had dreamed up the story or was exaggerating.  I duly wrote the story down and filed it with the many other “family legends”.  Years later cousin Elaine (Wolpin) who lived in Toronto offered to do some research for me.  The story Aunt Minnie told me always bothered me.  She was definitely NOT senile nor, from what I learned of her, was she the type to make up stories!  So I decided to try and get to the bottom of this.  Elaine went to the Toronto library and looked through the periodicals for a story about a shipping disaster in the summer of 1901.  And Lo and Behold Elaine found the story (even more graphically described than Aunt Minnie had told me).  It turned out to be the Lusitania (the ship was re-built later only to be sunk in WW I – talk about ill-fated!).  Elaine made copies of the newspaper article which, though faded, I still have. 

Aunt Minnie is known to have been a strong and determined woman.  Joseph, her husband, was more conservative and usually liked to consider the risks before getting involved (it was at Joseph’s insistence that the FPS was incorporated! Since he worried that someone might sue and each individual then would be liable!).  Joe had “golden hands” and a way with machinery.  I was told that he could fix just about anything.  He was also an innovator.  If he saw a better way of doing something he did it that way!  Joe upon arrival in the USA had found work reasonably quickly.  As a newlywed (married October 26, 1906) he had a steady job paying all of $5 per day (consider that a steak and baked potatoes cost about 5 cents – if I’m not mistaken).  The story is told that Joe was quite satisfied with the situation, Minnie was NOT!  She had great faith in his talents and firmly believed that Joe should strike off on his own, why “sell” his talents cheaply when he should be making his own fortune AND she told Joe so!.  The “discussion” went no where, Joe just didn’t want to take the risk, especially with Minnie pregnant!  Minnie a woman of action didn’t wait – one morning Joe got up, got out of bed and went to get dressed.  He put on his shirt and then looked for his pants.  He knew (or thought) he had put them over the chair!  Well maybe they’re in the closet.  So he went to the closet only to discover all his pants were GONE!  He woke up Minnie to find out what was going on.  It turns out that Minnie had either hidden or thrown out all his pants!  The story from here has several versions:  (1) She refused to get him his pants until he agreed to go independent OR (2) she kept him home so that he missed the day of work and got fired and had to go independent!  One way or the other he did go independent and created Joseph Pernick & Sons Inc. 

In 1920 Minnie and Joe were living at 592 Fairview, Queens, New York. 

OTHER Pernick connections: 


As I mentioned earlier Eliezar Pernik married the daughter of an extremely wealthy merchant and/or dairy farmer, Mayer Zavil Greenstein (there is an existent picture of him – which I sent under a separate file).  He was very tall and extremely strong, also quite religious.  He made and lost three fortunes (actually his wealth was seized by the Russian Government Authorities each time).  He owned a whole town near Smolensk!  His father, Aaron Yaakov Greenstein is said to also have been quite scholarly and wealthy.   Aaron Yaakov decided to marry off his son to Elka (Olga) the daughter of  Meir Eliezar Feinberg (a well-to- do neighbor – Meir’s son Mordecai Yitzhak Feinberg later went to the USA became extremely wealthy, some say he won the lottery, and in his old age moved to Israel, built a Synagogue – there is still a dedication plaque to him above the entrance to the Shaare Hesed Synagogue) According to one family story Mayer was only 14 and his bride 13 though other records state he was 17 and she 15 – still quite young!.   Their first child was Devora Baila (later to be the wife of Eliezar and mother of our founders!).  In all Mayer and Elka had 6 children, Devorah Beila, Gittle, Moshe Shaindel, Tzeitel, Esther Sheindel and Golda.  Mayer Zanvil married a total of three times (having outlived two wives).  He is known to have had at least 10 children.  His last wife, Kraindel Meyers was around 19 when she married him (he was in his 60’s or 70’s) and bore him 4 children, Yaakov, Rachel, Faiga and Henry (who was born when his father, Mayer Zanvil, was in his 70’s or 80’s!! and who married Leah Bayefsky and whose daughter May Greenstein married a PERNICK cousin - Henry!!).  Interesting to note that our ancestor Devorah Baila was dead almost 40 years when her father sired his last child!!  (Which explains a major generation shift in our family tree).  Mayer Zanvil, whenever he had money, always had resident in his house a scholar to tutor the children and a “sofer” (scribe) to write Torah Scrolls for him, which Mayer would then later donate to Synagogues in the surrounding area!  He would also set up all his son-in-laws with a large farm or business so that the son-in-law wouldn’t have to worry about making a living (he gave Eliezar and Devorah Baila their start on a large farm).  He was an extremely strong man, physically, and was healthy his whole life.  There was a young Russian peasant who was said to be the strongest man in the area, and was extremely proud of the title.  Some of the Russian’s friends taunted him saying there was an old Jew in his 80’s who was stronger!  So this young Russian looked for this old Jew, Mayer Zanvil, in order to have a wrestling match and “prove” that he, the Russian, was stronger!!  Of course when challenged Mayer told the Russian youth “of course you are the stronger” but the youth wanted a wrestling match to “prove” it!  Mayer always found ways of avoiding the youth or any confrontation with him, after all there was a 70 year difference in their ages!  In the days before WW I, especially during the Beilis (Blood Libel) Case, there were many officially sanctioned Pogroms.  During the outbreak of one of the pogroms Mayer was in the non-Jewish part of town when suddenly he felt two arms around his chest, squeezing the breath from him!  It was the Russian youth who had grabbed Mayer from behind in a crushing, surprise, bear hug!  All the Russian’s friends were around cheering him on “to show the Jew who was stronger”!!  There were only one or two other Jews present and they could do nothing to help Mayer.  Mayer then slowly turned himself around in the Russian’s grip, put his own arms around the Russian and squeezed with all his might – breaking the Russians back, and killing him!!  At which point the youth, of course, let go of Mayer.  The Russian crowd quickly dispersed leaving the few Jews to help Mayer home.  Sorrowfully Mayer suffered several broken ribs and other fatal injuries and died two weeks later. 

The ten known children of Mayer Zanvil Greenstein: Devorah Beila, Gittle, Moshe, Tzeitel, Esther-Shaindel, Golda, Yaakov, Rachel, Faiga and Henry.  Devorah died in Europe pre-WW I and her children (the FPS founders all went to the USA).  Gittle married Tzvi Hoffberg (Yudel Zvi Hirsh) who was a “Justice of the Peace” in the USA and performed most of the Pernick weddings.  Moshe and his family stayed in Europe and perished in the Holocaust.  Tzeitel (who was a close friend of Leah Pernick-Lidsky married Velvel Gusman (who was very close to the Brisker Rav).  Most of their family perished in the Holocaust.  Their eldest daughter, Dina, came to Israel along with Esther (and her husband Yaakov Yosef Cohen) and Golda (and her husband Moshe Harash) and their half brother Yaakov Greenstein.  Rachel (married to Zarelka) and Faiga and their families perished in the Holocaust.  Henry (the youngest) came to the USA. 

There were a few ‘cousin’ marriages between Pernicks and Greensteins!  (talk about kissing cousins). 

ELIEZAR PERNICKS SIBLINGS:  Hershel Leib, Mortcha, Rifka and Goldy. 

Very little is as yet known about what happened to Rifka and Goldy (she married Widemlasky) except that Uncle Abe knew them and mentions them in an early Chatterbox.   I have been much more successful in tracing the descendants of Hershel and Mortcha.  Hershel had at least 6 children: Israel, Molly, Moshe, Morton, Gittle and Rebecca.  Most, if not all of the families of Israel, Molly, Moshe and Morton perished in the Holocaust.  Gittle is the mother of Barney Williams (who was very close to the FPS founding families – he even lived with Benjamin and Sarah Pernick for awhile!).  Rebecca married Aaron Tanenbaum and their children went to Argentina and the USA.  Mortcha Pernick married Musha and moved to Riga.  Many of their children also perished in the Holocaust.  One son, Abraham, got to Egypt and later to the USA.  Abraham married Mary (she was living upstate NY).  Musha Pernick and some of her daughters came to Israel.  Musha passed away in Haifa at the age of 101.  

“OTHER” Pernicks:  The “Detroit” Pernicks – They are descendants of Naftali Hertz.  I have a reasonably complete family tree of their group which I will write about IF anyone is interested.  It is through the spouse of Naftali that they have a Katzenellenbogen connection.  As yet (even though they too come from Brest Litovsk) I have not been able to prove a firm link to their family with the FPS.  The “other” Pernicks are also spread out across the USA.  While researching the “Other” Pernicks I asked about one of their family who (it later turned out) had worked in US intelligence in some capacity.  I continued to ask about him and leave messages for him to contact me.  It was only after the FBI contacted my uncle Ben that I realized I wasn’t researching BUT I was being researched!!  Another relative in Israel turned out to be a criminal parole officer whose phone number and address are unlisted.  So imagine the “upset” I caused when I turned up at her house while she was at work, talked to the baby sister and her children and (mistakenly) left the wrong phone number to contact me!  Luckily I called her that evening before the police put out an all points bulletin to search for a possible kidnapper and criminal (ME!?). 

South African Pernicks and the Russian Pernicks ARE related to each other (there was even a Pernick woman officer in the Red Army during WW II) and I have a tenuous link to our Pernicks from Brest Litovsk.  I have done quite a bit over the years BUT there still remains much to be researched and learned (I recently paid for a researcher to go through Russian Birth registry for Brest Litovsk from 1898 to 1910 – I am still going through the results).  I have contacted the Argentinian relatives (not Pernicks but Tanenbaum).  

The “Picture” in the American Jewish Album  

 I think it was Betty Sillen that received a phone call from someone who said “look at the book it’s got a picture of your father”.  She did and it WAS a picture not only of her father but of Jack, Henry Greenstein, Barney Williams and others!  But the caption read three generations of the FREUND family!  Something was very strange!  No one had heard of any Freund connection so what was the picture about?  Not only that, but there were also many unfamiliar faces in the picture.  All kinds of theories were put forward. To get to the bottom of it my mother, Edna Sidor z”l, called one of the people who appeared in the picture and the story she was told is as follows:

The Pernicks always liked to get together for picnics and other outdoor activities (I remember there used to be an annual summer get together, cookout, softball game and gossip!).  One year they were out in New Jersey for a get together when someone came up to them and asked them to pose in a group picture with the Yungerman Family!  So some of “our gang” went over to fill in the ranks of their picture!  That picture found its way into the YIVO archives which was one of the major sources for the American Jewish Album!  The caption of course is completely wrong…





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      7 years ago

      Regarding the "Upstate" Pernicks: At the turn of the 19th to 20th century an Avraham Pernick (distant relative) seems to have intermarried and moved north (upstate) More details when I finally have more time to continue the story or contact me directly at

    • profile image

      Marianne Pernick 

      7 years ago

      What about the Buffalo Pernicks??? We are all Catholic - including a R.C. nun.


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