|A Ripperologist Article|
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As a result of conducting some research through the Polish State Archives in Poznan, I have discovered the birth certificate of Jack the Ripper suspect Aaron Kozminski as well as the birth certificates of his siblings. In this article, I will briefly describe how the discovery came about and discuss the implications of the information contained in the birth certificates.
Aaron Kozminski’s birth certificate would probably have been found long ago, except for the fact that archives in Poland are not centralized but housed in numerous regional archives. These places will do research for a fee, but unless you know the town from where a person was, finding such a document is like looking for a needle in a haystack and can be pretty expensive. On the ‘Reconsidering Aaron Kosminski’ thread on the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website there was a spirited discussion and a good deal of research into the genealogy of various Kozminskis and their relatives, such as the Lubnowski family. Research turned up Golda Abrahams’s death certificate, among other things. But the real breakthrough was Chris Phillips’s discovery of a naturalization application memorial for Israel Lubnowski-Cohen, who was probably a brother of Morris Lubnowski. Most of these memorials did not list a place of birth. As Chris Phillips noted, ‘The memorials were written on printed forms, and by 1896 the form had become more detailed, including the phrase “he was born at”.’ Thus, Israel Lubnowski-Cohen’s application, dated 1901, listed his place of birth: Klodiva (Klodawa) in the Province of Kalish (Kalicz), Poland. As Aaron’s sister Matilda was the wife of Morris Lubnowski, I assumed that it was likely that the Kozminski family came from the same region as the Lubnowski family. I believed that it was worth finding out if it could be proved that the Kozminskis came from Kalish (Kalicz), so I wrote up a research request, had it translated into Polish, and sent it to the State Archives in Poznan.
For my correspondence with the State Archives in Poznan I used a Polish translator. When I received the first response from them telling me what they had found, I quickly scanned the page and read a list which contained six documents. One of these was ‘dokument uroenia – Aron Mordke Kozminski z 1865 r.’ This translates to ‘Birth certificate – Aron Mordke Kozminski, dated 1865.’ Needless to say, I was pretty excited. The list in its entirety is as follows (translated from Polish):
1. Birth certificate - Pessa Elka Kozminska, dated
2. Birth certificate - Hinde Kozminska, dated 1848
3. Birth certificate - Icek Szymche Kozminski, dated 1851
4. Birth certificate - Blimbe Laje Kozminska, dated 1857
5. Birth certificate - Aron Mordke Kozminski, dated 1865
6. Birth certificate - Mosiek Lubnowski, dated 1857
I ordered these documents, paid a US$110 research fee and, after several months, received photocopies of the original documents.
The translation of the birth certificate of Aron Kozminski is as follows (transcriptions of his siblings’ birth certificates and his parents’ marriage certificate follow this article):
#21. Town Klodawa. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 17th September, 1865, [Starozakonny] Abram Jozef Kozminski, age 44, tailor, in the presence of witnesses Lajzer Pizeszewski, hawker, age 70 and [Zojki] Skowronski, labourer, age 40, both living in Klodawa, showed us a child, male, from his wife Golda of Lubinowskich, age 44, born here in town Klodawa on 11th current month and year at 10 p.m. who was named (at circumcision) Aron Mordke. This act was read to the father and witnesses and signed by them (signatures)
First, let me say that there is no doubt in my mind that this is the birth certificate of Aaron Kozminski, as Aron’s date of birth, 11 September 1865, corresponds exactly to Aaron Kozminski’s known age. It is interesting to note that his middle name, ‘Mordke,’ means ‘warrior’ in Yiddish. Aron’s mother’s name was Golda, as expected, but her maiden name proved to be quite a surprise to me. It was Lubnowska. Also included among the documents I received was one that was not on the list: the marriage certificate of Abram Kozminski and Golda Lubnowska.
Pessa, Hinde, Icek, Blimbe and Aron were clearly siblings, as they all had the same parents: Abram Josef Kozminski and Golda (or Goldy) Lubnowska. Blimbe was most likely Aaron’s sister Betsy, who was married to Woolf Abrahams, as the presumed birth dates of Betsy and Blimbe were pretty much identical, based on Betsy’s age in the 1891 census. Betsy was her Anglicized name. I did not receive a birth certificate for Matilda Kozminska, who was presumably born around 1856. See accompanying family tree.
It is interesting to note that the dates on these documents are rather inconsistent. It appears that it was common for people to estimate their own ages - which they often did inaccurately. For example, Golda’s age on her 1844 marriage certificate is 23, which would mean she was born circa 1821, but a year later, on the birth certificate of her daughter Pessa (1845), her age is 21, which would mean she was born circa 1824. On the 1901 census for the Lubnowski family, Golda’s age is listed as 82, which would mean she was born circa 1819. By the time of her death in 1912, her age is estimated as 97, which would mean she was born in 1815. We can only guess her exact age. I estimate, however, that she was born around 1823. The same types of variances in age are seen later on the 1891 and 1901 census records for the Abrahams family. In 1891, Betsy’s age is 34 (born c. 1857) and in 1901 her age is 40 (born c. 1861). I thus conclude that people often had only a general idea of how old they were.
The marriage certificate for Abram and Golda gives us a good deal of information: Abram’s parents were Icek and Malgorzata (Kozminski), a married couple living in Grzegorzew. Golda was ‘born from a married couple [Walek] and [Rudka] Lubnowskich of the occupation of butcher, living in the town of Klodawa.’ The birth certificates also tell us that Abram’s profession was that of a tailor. A witness at the certification of Pessa’s birth was Szymon Lubnowski, tailor, aged 33, probably Golda’s brother.
On the birth certificate of Mosiek Lubnowski (probably Morris Lubnowski), the name appears to be spelled Mosiek Abram Lubelski, although the handwriting is hard to read. On the typescript of the document sent by the Archives office, it is written Mosiek Lubnowski. His father is Josek Lubnowski, shoemaker, and his mother is Laj, age 25. It is unknown to me why Mosiek’s surname is spelled Lubelski on the handwritten document, although it is common to see variant spellings of surnames on these documents. For example, the surname Kozminski appears variously as Koziminski, Koziminskiewicz and Kozminska. It is worth noting that Polish adjectives have different forms for the genders. Surnames ending in ski are regarded as adjectives, so they, too, reflect gender with different endings. Thus Kozminski is the nominative form for a male; Kozminska is the same form for a female. As for the suffix ‘ewicz,’ it means ‘son of.’
As Chris Phillips notes: ‘The parents (of Mosiek) do look as though they match the parents given in Israel Lubnowski’s naturalization records - Jozek and Laj for Joseph and Leah. So maybe Mosiek is Morris... the supposition would be that Szymon (born c.1812), Jozek (born c.1815) and Golda (born c.1823) would be siblings.’ Thus it seems a distinct possibility that Morris Lubnowski and Blimbe (Betsy) were first cousins, but this is not proved.
Preliminary Thoughts and Interpretation
Golda’s death certificate lists her husband as Abraham Joseph Abrahams, a master tailor. This is almost certainly Abram Josef Kozminski. As Chris Phillips pointed out, it would have been an extraordinary coincidence for Golda to have married two men both of whom were tailors named Abram Josef. It would therefore appear that Golda changed her deceased husband’s surname on the record to the name of her daughter’s husband (ie, Woolf Abrahams). Why this was done is not clear, but it suggests that she wished to distance herself from the name of her son, knowing that he was a suspect in the Jack the Ripper murders.
Abram Josef Kozminski’s date of death is uncertain, but it was certainly before 1901, when Golda is listed in the census as a widow. There is an Abram Kozminski who died in Kolo in 1887, just a year before the Whitechapel murders. I have ordered this document but I have not yet received it. Kolo is located about 12 miles west of Klodawa, and about 8 miles north of a town called Kozmin, with which the name Kozminski may have been connected. In Polish, ‘ski’ is an adjectival suffix meaning ‘of, from, connected with, pertaining to.’ Attaching the ending ‘ski’ to the root ‘Kozmin’, as in Kozminski, is a way of saying ‘somehow associated with Kozmin’. Kolo is also located only about 5 miles west of Grzegorzew, from where Abram came (see map). I firmly believe this 1887 death certificate from Kolo will turn out to be that of Aaron’s father.
It has occurred to me that the death of Aaron’s father, just one year before the Whitechapel murder, may have been a sort of trigger. In his book, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, Peter Vronsky describes the trigger as ‘a series or combination of pressures in daily life that law enforcement officers call “stressors”, which at some point drive the predisposed individual to crack and act on his fantasy.’1 The FBI’s study on serial killers reported that in the case of eight per cent of the killers surveyed the stressor was the death of a significant person in the killer’s life. The death of Aaron’s father in 1887 may well have been such a stressor. I have also considered the rise in anti-Semitism in London at this time as an additional pressure that may have led to Aaron’s becoming a serial killer.
In terms of the birth certificate of Aaron Kozminski’s brother, Icek, the Polish Archives spelled his name Icek Szymche on the typed transcript of the document they mailed to me, but in the actual handwritten birth certificate it appears that his name is spelled Iciek Szyme Kozminski, although again the handwriting is difficult to read. The discovery that Aaron had a brother named Icek (Isaac) is intriguing to say the least.
We know there was an Isaac Kozminski who lived at 76 Goulston Street, but it is not known if this is the same person as Aaron’s brother Icek. The 1891 census lists Isaac (age 43), Elizabeth (wife), Michael (son) and Betsy (daughter) at the Goulston Street address. Presumably one could find the Polish marriage record of Icek and Elizabeth, or a birth certificate for their son Michael, which would determine if Icek (born 1851) is the same as Isaac (born c.1848), who was living at 76 Goulston Street. Again, their dates of birth may have been only estimated, as we saw with both Golda and Betsy.
It has always been assumed that Aaron Kozminski was living with one of his sisters during 1888, although there has never been any direct proof that this was the case. We know that by 1890–91 Aaron was presumably living at either Sion Square or Greenfield Street, or at both of these addresses at different times. It seems likely that there was a shared responsibility for taking care of him, so to speak. However, his residence from 1881 to 1889 has never been known. If Isaac Kozminski of 76 Goulston Street was Aaron’s brother, as now seems probable, there is a distinct possibility that Aaron may have stayed at this address during 1888.
Let us briefly examine the thesis that Aaron Kozminski was staying at 76 Goulston Street during the murder series. First, this would fit better with Anderson’s statement that the killer lived ‘in the immediate vicinity of the scenes of the murders’2 and the Macnaghten memorandum that states that Kozminski ‘lived in the very heart of the district where the murders were committed’.3 Furthermore, because the Goulston Street address falls within the area the police searched house-to-house, Aaron Kozminski may have appeared on a short list of suspected men, which would better explain Anderson’s statement in his autobiography, The Lighter Side of My Official Life:
During my absence abroad the Police had made a house-to-house search for him, investigating the case of every man in the district whose circumstances were such that he could go and come and get rid of his blood-stains in secret. And the conclusion we came to was that he and his people were certain low-class Polish Jews; for it is a remarkable fact that people of that class in the East End will not give up one of their number to Gentile justice.
And the result proved that our diagnosis was right on every point.4
As it is clear that Anderson believed that Kozminski was the Ripper, his statement would now make more sense. In effect, he appears to be suggesting that Kozminski was interviewed during the house-to-house search.
The Goulston Street residence would presumably fit a geographic profile of the killer even better than the Sion Street address. The murder of Tabram is the closest of all the crime scenes, which again fits the profiling theory that the first murder will be closest to the killer’s residence.
Finally, there is the obvious connection with the piece of apron and the graffito found in Goulston Street, essentially the only real clues definitely tied to the case. The killer’s presumed escape route after the Eddowes’s murder in the early morning hours of 30 September 1888 would have been along the dark back streets, probably down Stoney Lane and Goulston Street via either Wentworth Street or New Goulston Street. This would have allowed Kozminski, if he was indeed the killer, to slip into his residence after quickly wiping his hands clean on the apron.
These are my preliminary thoughts on these new discoveries. I am still doing further research into this subject and will publish any new information that I find in due course.
As a final note, I would like to correct and update my article, Aaron Kosminski Reconsidered, which appeared in Ripperologist No. 58 (March 2005). I wrote that Morris and Matilda Lubnowski’s son Joseph was born in Poland. This apparently was a significant error. He was actually born in Germany circa 1880, which means that the Lubnowskis had left Russia before the April 1881 pogroms. Their date of entry into England still appears to be 1881, but they were in Germany for longer than I had previously thought. It is still not clear when Aaron left Russia and whether he was in Germany for any length of time. He may have come later or he may have been with the Lubnowskis in Germany by 1880 or earlier. In conclusion, it is still unknown whether Aaron was in Russia during the pogroms and what, if anything, he witnessed or experienced at that time. I hope further research will uncover more information on this and other issues.
I would like to thank the following people for their help: Chris Phillips, whose excellent research was indispensable in finding the birth certificates of Aaron Kozminski and family, and who helped in interpreting them; and John and Laura Malcolm, for translating and interpreting the actual documents and for drinking beers and talking about the case with Elizabeth and me at the Burren in Davis Square, Somerville. Finally, my thanks to Elizabeth for listening, discussing, and putting up with my obsessive carrying on about this topic over the last few months.
Addendum - Translation of Birth Certificates of Aron Kozminski’s Siblings
NOTE: Some of the documents below show dates for both the Julian Calendar (which was used in Russia) and the Gregorian Calendar. This accounts for the 12- day discrepancy in dates as, for example, on the birth certificate of Hinde Kozminska, where her date of birth is listed as ‘on 13th/25th current month.’ After the January Uprising in 1863, Poland’s constitution was abolished and the political entity known as Congress Poland was officially absorbed by Russia. After this time, only the Julian Calendar dates were used.
#31. Grzegorzew. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 24th December 1845 at 11 a.m. [Starozakonny] Abram Jozef Koziminski – tailor, age 24, living in the town of Grzegorzew, here in Klodawa staying temporarily, in the presence of witnesses [Hersz] Szczecinski, bookbinder, age 50 and Szymon Lubnowski, tailor, age 33, living here in Klodawa, showed us a child, female, born here in Klodawa on 20th current month and year at 8 p.m. from his wife Golda, age 21. The child was named Pessa Elka. This act was read and signed by (signatures)
#18. Klodawa. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 16th/28th November 1848 at 11 a.m., [Starozakonny] Abram Jozef Kozminski, tailor, age 27, living here, in the presence of witnesses [Starozakonnych] [Hersz] Szczecinski, bookbinder, age 66, and [Jom] Londynski, labourer, age 70, both living in Klodawa, and showed us a child, female, born here in Klodawa on 13th/25th current month and year at 2 a.m. from his wife Golda of Lubinowskich Kozminska, age 25, who was named Hinde. This act was read and signed by us and witnesses. (Father) however can’t write. (signatures)
#15. Klodawa. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 2nd, 14th May 1851 at 7 a.m. [Starozakonny] Abraham Jozef Koziminski, tailor, age 29, living in the town of Klodawa, in the presence of witnesses [Starozakonnych] [Hersz] Szczecinski, baker, age 63, [Hersz] Olewski, (tradesman), age 66, living here in the town of Klodawa, and showed us a child, male, born on 25th April, 7th May, current year at 6 a.m. from his wife Golda of Lubnowski, age 28, who in circumcision was named [Iciek] Szyme Kozminski. This act was read, signed in Hebrew by father and in Polish by witnesses. (signatures)
#14. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 26th July/7th August 1857 at 6 p.m. [Starozakonny] Abram Jozef [??] Kozminski, tailor, age 36, living in the town of Klodawa, in the presence of [Starozakonnych] Majer Studentkowski, (teacher), age 54 and Lajzer Rzeszowski, publican, age 62, both living in the town of Klodawa, and showed us a child, female, born here in Klodawa yesterday at 5 a.m., from his wife Golda of Lubnowskich, age 35, who was named Blimbe Laje Kozminska. This act was read and signed by everyone. (signatures)
#1. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 2nd/14th January 1857 at 9 a.m. [Starozakonny] Jozek Lubnowski, shoemaker, age 42, living in the town of Klodawa, in the presence of witnesses [Starozakonnych] Majer Studentkowski (teacher), age 54 and Lajzer Rzeszowski, publican, age 62, both living in the town of Klodawa and showed us a child, male, born here in Klodawa on 6th current month and year at 8 a.m. from his wife Laj, age 25, who at circumcision was named Mosiek Abram Lubelski. This act was read and signed by witnesses. (signatures)
Translation of Marriage Certificate of Aron Kozminski’s Parents
#18. Klodawa. It happened in the town of Klodawa on 8th December 1844 at 3 p.m. [Starozakonny] Szmul Zelig Korek local Rabbi together with [Starozakonny] Abram Jozef Koziminskiewicz, age 22, born from [Idek] and Malgorzata, married couple living in Grzegorzew and Golda Lubnowska, single woman, age 23, born from a married couple [Walek] and [Rudka] Lubnowskich of the occupation of butcher, living in the town of Klodawa, certified that in front of him today, Abram Jozef Koziminskiewicz and Golda Lubnowska got married in the presence of witnesses Hersz Szczecinski, bookbinder, age 58, [Walek] Kniawski, tradesman, age 50, both living in the town of Klodawa. In the town of Buznica there were three announcements made prior to the marriage, on 23rd and 30th November and 7th December current year. In Klodawa oral permission was given by the present fathers for the marriage and there were no objections for the (young couple) to be married. The newly married certified that there wasn’t any agreement made prior to the wedding. This act was read and signed by (signatures)
1 Vronsky, Peter, Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters. Pg. 289, Berkley Publishing Group, 2004.
2 Anderson, Sir Robert: The Lighter Side of My Official Life, page 137, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1910.
3 Macnaghten, Sir Melville: The Macnaghten Memorandum.
4 Anderson, Sir Robert: loc. cit., pages 137-138.