Benjamin Krotin, shammes

crotinMr. Krotin (sometimes spelled Crotin) — his first name was never used in the synagogue’s records — was shammes (or sexton) of the synagogue in the 1920s and early 1930s.  Sometimes they dealt with him cavalierly, firing him for asking for a raise, but other times they went out their way for him, like after his family immigrated to Homestead after he worked for 12 years to be able to bring them all over:

Krotin’s family was reported as having arrived in Hstd, the sec’y instructed by the board to make out warrant of 250.00 in his favor, the members to be assest (sic) a prorated share by the finance Com.

–HHCRS Meeting Minutes, 4/22/1925, p. 107

His role seems to have been a synagogue jack-of-all-trades.  He listed his profession as janitor in American documents, but within the shul he taught school, led services, and helped collect dues.

He started sometime between September 1916-June 1920.  He ended in August 1932, at the height of the Depression.  His salary had been unilaterally reduced from $100/mo to $75/mo in May, as the synagogue board believed that was the only place where they could reduce expenses (?!).  In August he re-applied for his job and requested back pay, but another man, who had been angling for the position for some time, was accepted for the position at a much lower rate.

Family:

  • Born in Russia around 1870
  • Immigrated in 1913, age 43 (naturalized by 1930)
  • Wife: Rose (or Lillian?) (also b. 1870 in Russia), came over in 1924 (age 54)
  • Hard to reconstruct his children based on only record (1930 census), since it confuses his children and grandchildren, but he had at least one daughter, Sophie (b. 1897 in Russia) who came over in 1925 with her husband and four kids.  Also listed on this census are two teenaged granddaughters born in Russia.  Listed in a city directory is a Gloria at the same address, whose name isn’t one of the ones on the census.

Records:

I have very few records to go on.  Below are the only two on Ancestry, he’s not buried in the Homestead Hebrew Cemetery (or any other cemetery indexed online), and he’s not mentioned in Pittsburgh’s Jewish newspaper.  He’s listed as naturalized, but I can’t find a record of that, either.

  • Not in the 1920 census — perhaps he started after it came ’round in January?
  • 1930 census (listed as janitor / Jewish synagogue, living at 430 E 3rd Ave.)
  • 1931 Homestead City Directory (listed as janitor, living at 430 E 3rd Ave.) — this is the only city directory I can find him in

Oral history:

Lillian Burechson (LB) recalled some details about Crotin that give us more of a sense of what his life in Homestead was like and why he left:

LB: We, we had a kosher butcher, we had, we had a rabbi, we, we had a shamus, we had a cheder you know…

AP: Did you know the cheder?

LB: We, my mother and father , fed – he didn’t sleep at our house– but the shamus and teacher of the Homestead schul, Rabbi Krotin. We called him rabbi, but he really wasn’t an ordained rabbi. He was a teacher in the schul, and in return for his meals, he taught us in our home. We didn’t have to go to the schul to cheder?

AP: Oh. Now, did you have brothers and sisters?

LB: I had, I had two brothers and a sister. There were eight children born to my parents, but only four survived.

AP: Uh huh. So, he taught both you and your sister as well as your brothers?

LB: Oh, yeah.

AP: Did he teach you together?

LB: It was mostly one on one.

AP: Oh, I see. So, my next question, which was, did he teach you the same things as he taught your brothers, I guess you don’t really know.

LB: No.

AP: So, he would, he lived elsewhere but he just came here for his…

LB: He, he slept, you know, he had…

AP: [unclear?]

LB: Yeah, I mean apartments were not the usual thing. He had, a, a room in, with a family, and, uh, he came to our place for his meals.

AP: Was he a young man? It was very hard to tell, you were a child.

LB: I – no, because when his family came over they were adults and even his grandchildren were, were adults.

AP: Oh he had, he was – he was not a single man!

LB: He was a – when he was eating, you know, with, with our family he was alone.

AP: He was alone but he was not unmarried.

LB: Oh, no!

AP: That’s what I thought.

LB: He had, he had a family in Europe.

AP: Oh, I see.

LB: And, and, when we still lived in Homestead, he brought them over. And they, they lived in Homestead, and uh, then there – there really wasn’t that much for them here. And, the son-in-law, um, found more opportunity in New York. And, the whole family moved to New York.

AP: Oh, I see. So, he was sort of saving his money so that he could afford to bring them over. Now did, he was – was he used as the rabbi for the whole synagogue or was there a…

LB: He was, there was a rabbi.

AP: Oh, I see.

MB: …[unclear?] was a really ordained teacher – rabbi…

LB: We had an ordained rabbi who was a hazzen and the whole, you know… The whole thing. And, he was a teacher.

AP: I see.

LB: And, the shamus.

AP: Did your uncle also teach when he was the shamus?

LB: No, no.

AP: So that wasn’t the ordinary thing for the shamus to do, do you know?

LB: Well, I don’t know, because after Krotin I think that’s when Uncle Harry took over. I – I don’t remember

MB: Your grandfather was a shamus for a while.

LB: Oh! Oh, Max’s grandfather.

MB: Morris Glick.

LB: Morris Glick was the shamus for

MB: for a few years.

LB: For a while, then my Uncle Harry after that. But, Uncle Harry’s duties were different then Krotin’s.

AP: Hmm. And they were more limited – more confined to actually caring for the synagogue.

LB: Yeah. Yeah, and the cemetery.

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