by Kevin Walsh

SEVERAL buildings in the Lower East Side bear Stars of David. The Lower East Side was originally known as Kleindeutschland, or “Little Germany.” After the General Slocum steamboat disaster in June 1904 in which over 1000 people died — many from the neighborhood — the Lower East Side Germanic community was devastated. Germans later regrouped further uptown in areas such as Yorkville in the East 80s. The stars can be seen on buildings uptown but by far their greatest concentration is in the Lower East Side.

As anti-Semitic oppression gripped Europe and a series of pogroms raged, Jews emigrated to the United States in the thousands, at first obtaining jobs as peddlers and salesmen, in slaughterhouses and the “needle trade”, and occupied tenements in the Lower East Side, originally flimsily constructed wood frame buildings that were sloppily divided into many apartments, later by brick buildings without boilers, hence the term “coldwater flats.” Porous, cold, and firetraps as well, the typical 19th-century tenements were dirty, unsanitary and dangerous places to live. Nonetheless, they were homes to countless thousands.

In the case of buildings at 137-139 East Broadway, 47 Orchard Street and 14-16 Orchard Street (just off Canal, shown here) we know that the Stars of David were placed there by the buildings’ developers, Peter and Francis Herter, specifically to attract Jewish immigrants. Those buildings likely went up around 1890. The Herter brothers also designed the famed Eldridge Street Synagogue. Raised stone circles around each star signify the Biblical twelve tribes of Israel.

More FNY on the Lower East Side

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Peter May 11, 2022 - 11:20 am

It may seem improbable that so many people died on the General Slocum when it was never more than a mile from land as opposed to the middle of the ocean, but consider that the worst maritime disaster in US history, the SS Sultana fire and sinking just after the end of the Civil War, was on the Mississippi River. And less than three years ago 30+ peopledied when a dive boat caught fire when anchored something like 100 feet off the California coast.

Andy May 12, 2022 - 11:55 am

And don’t forget the SS Morro Castle, which caught fire and ran aground just off Asbury Park, NJ in September 1934. 137 passengers and crew died; many more were injured. Wikipedia link:

Andy May 11, 2022 - 2:58 pm

A sub-section of the Lower East Side was originally known as Kleindeutschland, specifically the area east of Second Avenue between 1st and 14th Streets, today called “Alphabet City” because of the four lettered avenues east of First. After the General Slocum steamboat disaster in June 1904 many victims were buried in Lutheran Cemetery (today Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery) in Middle Village, Queens. As noted, after the tragedy German immigrants moved to other areas, such as Manhattan’s Yorkville, and also Ridgewood and Bushwick on the Brooklyn – Queens border, near the cemetery.

Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, most notably Czarist Russia, Poland, Lithuania, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire largely replaced the German population in Kleindeutschland. Some Jewish immigrants were from Germany, but far greater numbers came from countries to the east as noted. Until at least the 1930s, Eastern European Jews were the dominant ethnic group in the Lower East Side east of Second Avenue and Chrystie Street. The everyday language of this group was Yiddish, a derivative of German that is written in Hebrew letters.


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