My great-grandfather, Hyman Manoff, was born in 1884 in Odessa, in what’s now the Ukraine. This past May, I got a glimpse into my heritage by spending a day in my great-grandpa’s hometown.
Hyman Manoff was my maternal grandfather’s father, and I was sort of named after him. (My parents bestowed on me the Hebrew name of Chayim, which derives directly from my great-granddad’s first name; they then chose the relatively similar moniker of Harvey for the English-language name on my birth certificate.) At some point, Hyman married a woman named Sadie who came from the small Ukrainian village of Shpola. In 1905 he left Odessa and emigrated to the United States; he settled in Philadelphia, where he worked as an upholsterer. (I’m not sure whether Hyman married Sadie before or after his crossing of the Atlantic.) Hyman and Sadie had three children including a son Joseph, whose daughter Arlene would become my mother. And I’ve now pretty much exhausted the extent of what I know about Hyman Manoff’s life. He died in 1959, more than a decade before I was born, and I don’t even know what he looked like.
In May 2013, during my visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, I took a day-trip to Odessa. (I flew there from Kiev; the flight was about an hour long.) For several hours, I was privileged to wander some of the very streets that my ancestor must once have trod, and to gaze upon buildings and monuments that would have been familiar to him more than a century ago.
Odessa is a metropolis of just over 1 million inhabitants, making it the third-largest city by population in the Ukraine. My self-guided walking tour of the city began at a really long stairway.
The Potemkin Stairs
The most celebrated symbol of Odessa isn’t a building, but a staircase: the Primorsky Stairs, popularly known as the Potemkin Stairs. Rising up from the harbour to the plateau on which Odessa’s historic downtown rests, this assemblage of 192 stairs and 10 landings measures 466 feet in length. It widens as you descend; the topmost step is 41 feet wide, while the bottom step is nearly 71 feet in width. These stairs were constructed between 1837 and 1841. Here’s the view looking down the Potemkin Stairs towards the Black Sea:
Looking down the Potemkin Stairs from the top.
And here’s the opposite perspective, gazing up the Potemkin Stairs from somewhere just above their base:
Looking up the Potemkin Stairs from one of the lower steps.
These stairs appeared in a famous scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film, The Battleship Potemkin. Continue reading