Leah Berg

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Now that I have covered upon the lives of Moishe Grossman, his younger sister Chaya Fraida and their immediate descendants, I shall now turn to Moishe’s older sister Leah.  According to Joy Marcus, Leah was the only one of Noah and Miriam’s four children not to immigrate to the United States.  Consequently, I know almost nothing about her.  The sum of what I learned is that she was born sometime before her brother Moishe, who was born in 1859, and she married a man named Berg.  Her son Milton, who may or may not have been her only child, was supposedly from Radomisl, which, as I stated above, was a sizable town in Ukraine just northeast of Zhitomer.  It is likely that Leah moved from Sudilkov to Radomisl with her husband, who may have been from there, immediately after their marriage.

            I recently discovered a complete list of Holocaust victims from Sudilkov, and among the names of the dead were Shmil and Leiba Barg.  It is remotely possible that “Leiba Barg” was none other than Leah Berg and that Shmil was her husband.  However, in 1941 Leah would have been at least 83 years old if not much older, and she may have not even been living in her home town, as I suggested above.

            According to the Social Security Death Index, Milton Berg (social security no. 343-16-3465) was born on March 15, 1887.  My best sources on Milton were his daughter-in-law Faye Berg (10 Aug 1917-), who currently lives in Flossmore, Illinois, and his stepdaughter Muriel Fischer (20 Nov 1926-), who lives in St. Louis Park, a suburb of Minneapolis.  Faye told me that Milton left “Russia” for an urgent reason but she does not know what it was.  Judging by his birth date, he probably emigrated when he was at least a teen, after about 1902.  Of course it is not to be ruled out that he was brought over by someone else when he was an infant.  The evidence I have indicates that he traveled to the United States alone.  He seems to have been the last Grossman (or Berman) descendant to emigrate from the Old Country.

            Milton went straight to Minneapolis where he was reunited with his uncles, aunts and cousins after having not seen them for ten or fifteen years.  According to Muriel, Milton fell in love with Sophie Berman (30 Dec 1893-1963), the oldest of Mechel and Ethel’s seven children, but ended up marrying Mary Eisenberg because Sophie was marrying Louis Maltzman (died 1934).  Since Sophie and Louis tied the knot in 1910, we can be certain that Milton was in Minneapolis by that year.  Milton and Mary moved to Chicago in the period around World War I.  I cannot speculate about why they went to live there, but it may have been because Sophie and Louis also moved there!  Norman Grossman, Lou’s son, explained to me that after Milton’s wife Mary died (at the age of 56, according to Faye), he went back to Minneapolis where Sophie, also widowed, was then living.  Milton and Sophie, who had always maintained a warm friendship, got married in 1950 when they were 63 and 56 years old respectively.  Evidently, Milton was determined to have his way!  The entire story was confirmed by Muriel.  Mary was buried in a cemetery located at 7308 Wabash, in South Chicago.

            Faye described Milton as a meticulous, sharp-dressed man who took an hour to shave.  He was 5’3” to 5’5” tall with black hair (although he was balding), brown eyes and glasses.  He had a rather dry sense of humor and often joked with people.  He was a very hard worker and a devoted family man.  Faye told me that he spoke Yiddish fluently and read Hebrew.  He was bar mitzvahed and observed major holidays but did not keep kosher.  He first worked fixing automobiles which had been damaged in accidents.  His next job was in an open-air fruit market on 73rd and State in Chicago.  Finally, he went to work with his son Willie in the music accessories business.  Norman (Lou’s son), who met Milton only after he retired, described him as a “stocky Russian type” who spoke both Yiddish and English.  Faye claimed that Milton knew Charlie Margulis, whose wife was a Grossman (I will get to him below), as well as many other members of the family.  While he lived in Chicago he occasionally traveled to Minneapolis to visit an aunt (Chaya Fraida?) and his friends, the Bermans.  At home he belonged to a “Radomishler”, which was a social organization for Jews from the Old Country.  Milton died in a Minneapolis hospital on March 19, 1963 at the age of 76.  His wife Sophie passed away the same year.

            Milton and Mary had two children together, Rose (25 Nov 1913-27 Dec 1983) and William “Willie” (4 Apr 1915-14 Feb 1996).  Both were born in Hyde Park, Illinois. Rose married Jerome Weil (23 Feb 1910-Jan 1983) and had two sons: Charles Bernard (19 May 1940-), who married Donna Berman (31 Jan 1941-) on June 11, 1961 and had two children, Marty (13 July 1965-) and Gary (21 July 1968-); and Norman Leon (15 Feb 1945-), who married Gayle Greenberg in 1974 and also had two children, Brian (3 Nov, 1976-) and David (born 1978-80).  Faye described Rose as “a tiny, caring woman”.  Donna commented that she was very pretty, a loving mother, very sensitive, and had a very dominating personality.  According to her, Jerome, who worked very hard as a salesman in a plumbing outfit, was very devoted to Rose.  He loved bowling and golf and was surrounded by many friends.

Milton and Mary’s other child, Willie, met Faye Haas in 1934 and married her on March 14, 1937 in Chicago.  The latter described him as a very dynamic man who did not finish high school but was “taught by the world”.  He played saxophone and clarinet and sold jazz instrument accessories to many bands in Chicago where he lived.  Duke Ellington and Count Basie were close friends of his, as were Benny Goodman and Arty Shaw.  He used to go around with a black briefcase from band to band selling accessories.  His specialty was mutes for wind instruments.  In 1935 he got a partner and started a business called Humes & Berg, which manufactured mutes, music stands, music cases and other accessories.  The business exists to this day.  I found the following essay at the official Humes & Berg website:

Mr. Willie Berg founded our company in 1935 over 65 years ago. Willie was a struggling musician working in Chicago.  He would go to all the clubs in the area and sell the band members valve oil, reeds, cymbals, and many other supplies out of a bag he carried with him. He also played jobs whenever he could get work.

Many famous musicians took a liking to Willie, great names like Duke Elington, Harry James, Count Basie, Woody Herman, The Dorsey Brothers and the list goes on and on.  The real inspiration came from Glen Miller who encouraged Willie to make mutes for brass instruments so that he could blend the brass section.  Willie then invented Stonelined Mutes.  



The famous Humes & Berg patented stonelined mute


 He and his wife Faye would make the mutes in their small apartment on the south side of Chicago and Willie would sell them to the musicians that traveled through town.

In 1941 Willie was drafted. One evening when Glenn Miller was in Chicago he mentioned to Glen that he would not be coming around any longer to supply the members in the band with mutes as he was drafted. Mr. Miller told him that he was going to stay home and make STONELINED MUTES for all the Armed Services Bands throughout the world.

Willie borrowed from relatives and friends so he could open a small shop to begin making mutes full time.  From stonelined mutes came other items that musicians needed and asked him to make.

In 1948, the small factory was moved to its present location in East Chicago, Indiana.  It is still located here today, although additional acreage was purchased over the years to make it the sprawling campus it has become.

In 1962, the small factory in East Chicago burned to the ground leaving nothing to salvage.  Because Willie was a dedicated person to his business, and so did love the Music Industry, he wanted to continue his life’s work.  His son Irwin was just finishing his hitch in the Military when the fire occurred.  Irwin, seeing his father needed help offered to help him rebuild the business.  The two of them continued to work closely together to rebuild the business.  Their close association throughout the following years produced many new products, which are known throughout the world for their quality unsurpassed by anyone in the industry.

In 1992, Mike Berg (Irwin's son, Willie's grandson) came to work at the company.  Willie passed away in 1996.  Irwin and Mike, with so many of their dedicated staff, run the company today.

Humes and Berg products are supported by our network of over 3,000 Dealers in the USA and are distributed in nearly 50 countries worldwide.  Our goal is to supply you with quality products for your perfect performance, designed with durability and innovation and always at a fair price.  Our entire staff is dedicated to your complete satisfaction at all times. 

Willie and Faye had two children: Irwin (17 Nov 1941-), who married Sharon Meden and had two children, Michael (21 Nov 1968-) and Kimberly (7 Sep 1970-); and Mitchel (19 Nov 1950-), who married Shirley Babitsky and had two children, Joshua (26 Oct 1984-) and Jessica (4 May 1986-).

            Curiously, in spite of the fact that Milton Berg lived in Minneapolis for many years and visited many times while he was living in Chicago, only one or two present day Grossmans have even heard of him.  Milton was Moishe Grossman’s nephew and my great-grandfather Max Grossman’s first cousin, and yet hardly anyone recognizes his name.  In fact, nobody knew that we Grossmans have had family in Chicago for over three quarters of a century!  The Bergs and Weils are direct descendants of Leah Grossman and are therefore our direct relatives by blood. 

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