Abraham Datnowsky

Abraham Josef Datnowsky was born in 1849 in Lithuania, the son of Jossel (Yossef) Meier Datnowsky and Sore (Sarah) Datnowsky.

Abraham was probably born in Dotnuva, Lithuania (the origin of the Datnowsky name, and the birthplace of his younger brother Moritz); He later lived in Libau (Liepaja), Latvia, a port city on the Baltic sea and the third-largest city in the country after Riga and Daugavpils (Dünaburg).

Abraham Datnowsky

Abraham Datnowsky (Libau)

Bassja Rabinowitz

Alternate spellings: Bassia, Bassja, Batia, Bass, Rabinovitch.

Bassja was the daughter of Yakov Rabinowitz.

The earliest photo of Bassja was taken in a photo studio located in Dünaburg (German for Daugavpils), suggesting her possible city of origin.

Bassja Datnowsky

Bassja Datnowsky


Bassja Datnowsky

Bassja Datnowsky's calling card in German

Abraham and Bassja Datnowsky, Windau, 1900?

Abraham and Bassja Datnowsky, Windau, 1900?

Abraham Datnowky and Bassja Rabinowitz were married and had four children: Bertha (Chaja Braina), Ronya (Rebeccah), Liska (Eva) and Israel (Isrolke).

Abraham and Bassja Datnowsky, Windau, 1900?

Abraham and Bassja Datnowsky, with Eva (Liska), Bertha, Israel and Ronya. Windau, 1898

It's not clear what was the profession of Abraham Datnowsky. According to Alex Mallat, he was a furniture manufacturer, while according to Michael Rosenberg, he was "some kind of merchant".

The only official record of his profession is found in his daughter Ronya's birth certificate, where he is listed as "Kommissioner" - probably a modern mistranslation for "Kommissionär", meanting "Commission Merchant", that is "a person who buys or sells goods for others on a commission basis."

Possibly confirming this, the 1892 Libau Address Book lists under "Commission Business" the company of Rabinovitz & Co. Also, in the list of companies ("Firmen"), Rabinowitz & co is listed for "Commission und Bank Gesch" - "Commission and banking business." Because there are no businesses listed under Datnowski in this list, it's possible that Abrahan may have worked for a company belonguing to his wife's family.

The family must have been sufficiently well-to-do to send their daughter Bertha to study at the University of Bern, Switzerland, between 1903 and 1905.

They had house help, although this was apparently the norm for middle-class Jewish families then in Latvia in the late 19th/early 20th century.


Early studio photos of the Datnowsky family, including an early portrait of Abraham, were taken in Libau. Later portraits were taken in Windau (now Ventspils, Latvia), in 1898 and 1900, suggesting that the Datnowsky family may have moved to Windau in the late 1890's. The two cities are about 80 miles apart.

According to Alex Mallat ("Manuscrit de la mer Egée"), the Datnowskys lived mainly in Libau (Liepaja) but also in Riga and in Windau between the end of the 19th century and the begining of the 20th.

Indeed, like his brother Moritz, Abraham Datnowsky is listed in the Courland Voters Lists for the 1907 Russian Duma (Parliament) election and was registered in Windau, which may indicate this was his residence at the time.

Courland Voters Lists 1907 Duma
Entry Number Surname Given Name Father Town Date Comments
B -181 DATNOVSKY Abram Yossel Ventspils (Windau) 1907 Eligibility 4

Source: jewishgen.org

To be eligible to vote, voters had to be "of good character" and in good standing in the community. Based on their position in the community, voters belonged to different categories of eligibility. Whereas voters in Section A were the most prominent citizens likely to own substantial real estate or business interests, voters in the larger group B had less economic and social status.

Voters Categories
1 Those with real property
2 Those carrying on a retail business - includes small shopkeepers
3 Those engaged in manufacturing business
4 Those paying house tax
5 Those paying industrial or business tax
6 Those living in separate flats
7 Government employees
8 Those drawing a government pension (former government employees).

In 1907, Abraham belonged to this second group, and his "Eligibility 4" rank means that he paid a house tax.

The fact that he wasn't listed under #2 or #3 (retail and manufacturing businesses) could indicate that he was not working anymore by that time.

Death of Bassja

In 1909, Bassja died at a young age of breast cancer.

Bassja Datnowsky

Bassja Datnowsky - painting after photograph

About a year earlier, Abraham's mother had died, and the following year so would his father Jossel.

After Bassja's death, Abraham proved incapable of taking care of his business. Either overcome by grief, or simply not up to the task without the help of his wife, he seems to have let things fall apart.

According to Alex Mallat, he was "tired". He went to people's houses (at least to their house), would sit in an armchair, would start to read a newspaper then would fall asleep. According to Michael Rosenberg, "he was 'addicted' to news and newspapers". Likewise, Morris Halle tells a very similar story:

"He would come to our house on weekday afternoons, when my mother would serve him a very hot glass of tea that he would drink while reading the Yiddish newspaper."

"My sister Rita and I would do our utmost to have him take notice of us, but he never paid the slightest attention to us. We would shine his shoes and offer to give him a pedicure, but he never answered us."

(Morris Halle, in a letter to Gabrielle)

A few relatives have also hinted that his drink of choice was stronger than tea, although it's impossible to know for sure.

He may have needed the financial help of his son-in-law Moritz Abraham in later years, according to a letter dated November 15, 1918, from Moritz to Asher Mallat:

"'Papa' is doing well, I have done the necessary to ensure his upkeep since the beginning of the war."

("Papa va de meme très bien, j'ai dès le commencement de la guerre fait le nécessaire pour son entretien.")

1920's: Germany

Abraham lived in Germany (in Berlin) in the 1920's. His move may have be caused by the Bolshevik Revolution and the creation of the Baltic States which, according to Alex Mallat, triggered a partial diaspora of Latvian Jews after 1920. Another possible reason may have been that his brother Moritz had apparently moved to Germany, and so had his daughter Bertha.

According to Alex Mallat, Abraham moved to Germany in 1924 and "lived a great deal at Bertha's in Berlin," although a number of postcards and letters he sent to his children and in-laws show his address in a pension in Berlin.

Two photos of Abraham and his brother Moritz Datnowsky taken in Berlin and dated 1922 suggest that - if the date is correct - Abraham actually moved there a few years sooner.

Moritz and Abraham Datnowsky, Berlin 1920

Moritz and Abraham Datnowsky, Berlin 1920

Earlier still, Abraham appears on photos taken in Kolberg, a resort on the Baltic where his grandchildren Uriel and Gisy, and their cousin Isy, spent the summer.

Here he is seen on a studio portrait made to look like it was taken on the beach, taken in 1920.

Abraham Datnowsky, Kolberg, 1920

Abraham Datnowsky, Kolberg (Baltic), 1920

Another photo, this one dated 1920 in Berlin (but could possibly be in Kolberg), shows him surrounded by the children.

Abraham Datnowsky, 1920

Abraham Datnowsky, Berlin? (or Kolberg?), 1920
Gadi Mallah, Abraham Datnowsky, Gisi Abraham, Isi (Alex) Mallah, Lea Auerbach, Uli Abraham.

Back to Libau

Abraham sent this Rosh Hashanah card to his family from Libau on October 1927, suggesting that he either alternated between between the two countries, or had moved back to Latvia after spending a few years in Berlin.

Rosh Hashanah wishes from Abraham to his grand children, October 1927

Rosh Hashanah wishes from Abraham to his grand children, October 1927

Abraham Datnowsky, 1928, Libau.

Abraham Datnowsky on the steps of the Libau Kurhaus (Spa), ca 1928, Libau. Bertha is standing first from the right.

(Photo courtesy of Morris Halle)

Abraham died on November 1, 1928 (19 Cheshvan 5689) (according to the online transcript of the Liepaja Jewish Cemetery Book 1909-1941).

Morris Halle: "He died in 1928, and I remember that your grandmother stayed at our house when she came to Libau for the funeral."

Datnowsky tombstone, Libau.

Tombstones of Abraham Datnowsky, Sore Datnowsky, Jossel Meier Datnowsky. Libau.
Although it's impossible to read, assuming the fourth tombstone is Bassja's.

Liepaja Jewish Cemetery Burials 1909-1941
Last Name Given Names Father's Name Death Date
Jewish Date Jewish Year
DATNOWSKY Abram Josef 1 November, 1928 19 Cheshvan 5689

(source: http://www.liepajajews.org/cem/D.htm)

Special Thanks:
Bitia Biesel, for Bassja's painting
Bitia Biesel
Morris Halle
Michael Rosenberg
Alex Mallat
JewishGen: 1907 Duma registration list
The Riga Rabbinate Vital Records
1892 Libau Address Book
Alexandre Mallat: "Manuscrit de la Mer Egée".

This family history project started September 2009.
All photos and documents belong to the author and are © Daniel Abraham, except for maps and where indicated.
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This is a work in progress. Please contact me if you have any more information to contribute.

Last Modified: Saturday, October 15, 2022