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The Yiddish Walk of Fame

VillageEast Cinema AuditoriumThe Village East Cinema auditorium.

On the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, the neon blue of the glass Chase Bank building beams among the many signs and street lights. Yet this particular site casts a stage-light glow on the now-oxidized, brassy stars embedded in the sidewalk, embossed with Jewish names.

This is the Yiddish Walk of Fame.

The placement of these stars is a reminder of a former culinary institution (some might say shrine) that once occupied this coveted address, the Second Avenue Deli. From 1954 to 2006 the restaurant was an East Village staple, founded, owned and operated by the locally beloved Abe Lebewohl. The park across the street was re-named for Mr. Lebewohl after his murder in 1996.

Although the Second Avenue Deli had to vacate its historic setting (it has since relocated to 33rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill) it was originally centered among a unique and ubiquitous string of Yiddish theaters along Second Avenue: what Josh Lebewohl — nephew of Abe and co-owner of the deli with his brother Jeremy — calls, “The Jewish Broadway of its time.”
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The General Slocum and The Two Evas

Eva_Schneider-GraveTim MilkThe grave of Eva Schneider and her daughter at Greenwood Cemetery.

On the 107th anniversary of the Slocum Disaster, local historian Tim Milk looks at the fate of two passengers.

It’s always had that inexplicable sadness about it, that red former Lutheran church on Sixth Street. Even before the plaque went up on the cast-iron fence which tells the sad story, one could never shake the brooding heaviness that hovered in its yard and hung over its doorstep while passing it by.

Surely it felt different on that lovely early summer’s day when Eva Schneider and her teenage daughter, also named Eva, departed its gates with so many mothers and kids from the largely German congregation to cross over to the East River piers. There, the two Evas and their many good friends, all in holiday dress, would board the excursion steamship General Slocum for an invigorating trip around the bend.

Today, their headstone looks out from a hillside just inside the fence of Greenwood Cemetery. It sadly attests to all who pass by that the two Eva’s lie there together, having both died that same day with 1,200 others. What a vivid picture the legend creates in the mind — a blue sky, the spray of the waves, stiff breezes stirring dresses and children’s hair tied with ribbons, then a desperate panic as the lumbering paddle-wheeler burst into flames.
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Debating the Fate of ‘Little Germany’

Deutsches DispensarySophie Hoeller The Deutsches Dispensary, Third Avenue and St. Marks, an enduring icon of the East Village’s history as “Little Germany.”

Last Friday, at the start of the first weekend of Oktoberfest, we wrote about the East Village’s former notoriety as “Little Germany,” an enclave for German immigrants in the 19th century.

As the celebration of German culture comes to close this weekend, the answer to one question remains elusive: What happened to the German community in the East Village?

Some historians — and at least one reader — link Little Germany’s decline to the General Slocum disaster in 1904, when a chartered cruise boat carrying members of the St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to a picnic, caught fire in the East River, killing more than 1,000 people, including many inhabitants of Little Germany.

A memorial of the General Slocum disaster can be found in Tompkins Square Park, where a small fountain reminds us of the Germans who lost their lives.

However, author William Grimes said that the decline was due more to the classic immigrant pattern of “succeed and disperse,” in which immigrants prospered and moved out of the immediate neighborhood. Many successful Germans moved to 86th Street, creating Yorkville, another German enclave of which little remains.
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The Day | A Look Back

TowerRachel Wise

Hello, East Village.

We begin this morning with a look back.

On Friday, we wrote about the neighborhood’s history as a former enclave for German immigrants. One reader, Steve, reminds us that we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge one of the saddest chapters in neighborhood history – the fire aboard the General Slocum ferry, which killed more than 1,000 people on June 15, 1904.

The disaster, which was the deadliest in New York City until 9/11, is a well-known and heart-breaking part of neighborhood lore: members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church boarded the steamship for a run up the East River to a church outing. A fire broke out. Many of the victims, particularly women and children, did not know how to swim. And many of the life jackets and lifeboats were ineffective.

Days after the blaze, The New York Tribune reported on the first bulletins it received about the fire. “The steamer General Slocum, carrying a Sunday school excursion from the East Side, is on fire in the East River opposite One-hundred-and-thirty-eighth-st. Women and children are jumping into the water, some with their clothing on fire.”

General Slocum MemorialSophie Hoeller The memorial to the victims of the General Slocum disaster in Tompkins Square Park.

Although determining the precise number of the dead proved elusive, it is generally agreed that 1,021 of the 1,342 of those aboard perished. A memorial to those who were lost stands in Tompkins Square Park.

In 2004, the last survivor of the disaster, 100-year-old Adella Wotherspoon, died at a New Jersey convalescent home. Mrs. Wotherspoon offered her own explanation for why the General Slocum might not be as widely remembered as other maritime disasters such as the sinking of the The Titanic, in which about 1,500 died. “The Titanic had a great many famous people on it,” she said. ”This was just a family picnic.”

In the East Village, though, the General Slocum will always sadly be remembered as so much more.
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