The Journey of
Produced by Family Heirloom Arts
Lisa Kagan: Writer, Researcher,
Illustrator, Book Designer
Bruce Kagan: Oral Historian
Neil Kagan: Photo Researcher
Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents
without permission is prohibited.
Printed by Stevens Printing.
Book binding by Grossenbacher Bros Inc.
A portrait of Henry Kagan as a young man
This book is dedicated
to my grandfather Henry Kagan.
he story of my grandfather's
life begins in the town of
Mykolaiv on the Black Sea,
where he was born in 1917. Mykolaiv
was part of Russia then, but is now part
of the Ukraine. My great-grandparents,
Joseph and Diana Kaganofski, lived
there with their young son, Henry.
Joseph was a Jewish craftsman who
supported his family by working as
a harness maker for the Tsar. He was
paid in small nuggets of gold.
Across Russia, however, the influence
of Marxist-Leninist atheism, propaganda,
and pressures for modernization
and secularization was rapidly
gaining strength. Persecution against
the Jews was rising. Joseph's shop was
taken over by the Bolsheviks—members
of Vladimir Lenin's radical wing
of the Russian Social Democratic
Labor Party. Joseph was demoted from
craftsman to cook. Through the frigid
winters, he prepared meals for throngs
of Russian soldiers.
The Kaganofski family prepared
to escape to freedom. They sewed
Joseph’s remaining gold nuggets into
their clothes and pieces of leather.
Leaving behind the only life they had
ever known, they sought a safe and
just place to start again. Their journey
They sewed Joseph’s
nuggets into their
clothes ... Leaving
behind the only life
they had ever known,
they sought a safe
and just place to
searching for Jews,
and stuck pitchforks
in the haystacks.
Yet the Kaganofskis
began on foot as they climbed a steep
hill with their horse beside them. At
the crest of the hill, they stopped and
looked back at their hometown. Joseph
instructed Henry to give the horse to
the townspeople. Their starving neighbors
were exceedingly grateful, butchering
the horse and cooking it on the
slope of the hill.
The family followed the path of the
Christian Underground Railroad—
a series of homes where Christians
welcomed migrating Jews and helped
them escape. During the day, the Kaganofskis
hid in twenty-foot haystacks in
the fields. Russian soldiers, searching
for Jews, sometimes came and stuck
pitchforks in the haystacks. Yet the Kaganofskis
survived. By cover of night,
they would trudge on to the next hiding
station. Joseph, Diana, and Henry
were hiding under a trapdoor, beneath
a rug and a kitchen table, one cold
night when Russian soldiers entered
the house and asked the old farmer,
“Do you have any Jews here?” As the
farmer was telling the soldiers there
were no Jews in the house, six-year-old
Henry started to sneeze. Diana covered
his mouth. Finally, the soldiers left, and
the family remained undiscovered.
In Bremerhaven, Germany, the
family boarded a steamship headed for
America. As the Bremerhaven pulled
away from the dock, some voyagers
held out small balls of yarn, one end
of which had been left with relatives or
friends on shore. The yarn unwound
and eventually ran out, streaming forlornly
in the wind.
On the long, arduous journey
across the Atlantic, Diana and Joseph
struggled to protect themselves and
little Henry from hunger and sickness.
They anxiously awaited their new life,
opportunity, and freedom in America.
The Kaganofskis arrived in New
York harbor and saw the lights of the
Statue of Liberty shining through the
night mist. They kissed the deck of the
boat, crying and thanking God that
they had arrived safely.
The Bremerhaven docked at Ellis
Island. Nervous at the prospect of the
various tests required for admittance
into this new land, the excited young
family stepped onto American soil.
Diana was parted from Joseph and
Henry as the men and women were
They kissed the deck
of the boat, crying
and thanking God
that they had
sent to separate areas to be deloused by
a drenching with a strong antiseptic.
After a series of medical tests, the three
were declared healthy. Then it was
time to register. When a man asked his
name, Joseph replied in Russian that it
was Kaganofski. The man said such a
long name would not do in America.
He changed the name to Kagan.
Upon completion of their screening
and registration on Ellis Island,
the Kagans met with their sponsor,
When a man asked
his name, Joseph
replied in Russian
that it was
man said such a
long name would
not do in America.
He changed the
name to Kagan.
Henry's paternal grandfather. He was
a man of biblical proportions with a
long, black beard. He was affectionately
called Rasputin because of his physical
resemblance to the Russian monk
Rasputin, who treated the son of Tsar
Nicholas for hemophilia and came to
dominate the royal family.
Grandfather Rasputin introduced
Joseph, Diana, and Henry to the strong
Jewish community in Manhattan. They
became involved with a Koschovita—a
fraternity of Jewish people in which
Judaism and prayer united the immigrants.
They communicated in Russian
and Yiddish until, gradually, they
learned English. The East Side below
14th Street supposedly resembled
“Jerusalem in its palmist days.” The
Kagans not only found a strong, welcoming
Jewish community that practiced
its religion openly; they also were
immediately integrated into the neighborhood
Joseph set up a buggy upholstery
shop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan
with the help of Grandfather
Rasputin, proudly displaying a sign in
Hebrew. Right away, Joseph put Henry
to work. In addition to the long hours
spent working for his father each evening,
Henry had to walk three miles to
and from school every day. When the
buggy shop evolved into a gas station
and auto-repair shop, Henry’s responsibilities
grew. Each night until one
o’clock in the morning, he stood on a
crate and hand-cranked gas into a hundred
or so A&P grocery trucks—trucks
with hard rubber tires and wooden
spoke wheels. Henry was also expected
to wax and polish six to eight Packard
cars a day. Meanwhile, Joseph would
be upstairs playing cards and smoking
with his friends. He never paid his son
for his work.
Eventually, this schedule took its
toll. Henry dropped out of school
before completing the eighth grade. He
soon got a job as a milkman in addition
to working for his father. Starting
at four-thirty each morning, he would
drive a horse-drawn milk wagon from
apartment to apartment and run up
and down countless flights of stairs,
Joseph set up a buggy
in the Lower East
Side of Manhattan
with the help of
displaying a sign
delivering bottles of milk. After his
return from World War II years later,
Henry moved to Long Island, where
he worked for Evan’s Dairy and even
delivered milk to Theodore Roosevelt
at Sagamore Hill.
He believed that
hard work and a
good job were the
keys to security, and
that money equaled
freedom. He passed
these views on to
Henry met his wife, Bella Lipschitz,
on a blind date. They married soon
after and had three children—Lenny,
Bruce, and Neil (my father). Eventually,
Henry started his own upholstery
shop, Pioneer Auto Seat Covers, on
Long Island. Though it was a familyowned,
family-run business like his
father’s, Henry believed in paying his
children for their labor.
A religious man, Henry led prayers
every morning in the Orthodox Jewish
community. Yet he worked Saturdays,
the Jewish Sabbath, to keep his business
going. He believed that hard work
and a good job were the keys to security,
and that money equaled freedom.
He passed these views on to his children.
Because of Henry’s strong work
ethic, his family affectionately referred
to him as “The Rock.” He harbored a
strong love for America, yet he preserved
the important family traditions
from the Old World. Henry Kagan
maintained a deep sense of inner balance
and was very at ease in his life.
Diana, Joseph, and Henry's names
are engraved on plaques on the Wall
of Honor at Ellis Island. Their children
and grandchildren continue to realize
their dreams of freedom and prosperity
in America, while honoring the
struggle that made it all possible.