Bookplate of Iulius (Julius) Gensch. Artist unknown, Estonia, ca. 1930s. From Katalog biblioteki i sobrania Iuliia Gensa (The Julius Gensch Library of Art), Tallinn, 1939. (YIVO)

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Gensch Family

Prominent residents of Tartu (Ger., Dorpat), a town in eastern Estonia. Members of the Gensch family were active in the public and cultural life of the town from the nineteenth century. The father, merchant Barukh Gensch, was involved with local charitable associations, including the Lines Tsedek (Righteous Lodging for the Night) Society.

Gensch had several sons, including Natan (1885–1972), a historian of Estonian Jewry and an editor of Unzer vort (Our Word), published in Tartu. In addition to a large number of articles on the history of Jews in Estonia, Natan also published several books in Yiddish and German and compiled the Bibliografiye fun yidishe druk-oysgaben (Bibliography of Yiddish Publications; 1935). He noted inscriptions on monuments at the Jewish cemetery in Haapsalu and was instrumental in its renovation in 1936. In the national Jewish communal elections scheduled to take place in the summer of 1940, Natan appeared on the list of the “For Yiddish Culture” party. He also served as a lecturer in Judaic studies at the University of Tartu.

Attorney Iulius (Julius) Gensch (dates unknown) was an art collector and researcher into the history of Jewish art. He organized exhibitions of his collections and published several books in the field. Politically involved, he was a member of the National Political Committee established by Jews of Estonia in November 1918. When World War II broke out, Iulius was appointed plenipotentiary of the Estonian government in Central Asia.

Naftali Gensch (dates unknown) was active in the Fraynt fun Yidish (Friend of Yiddish) Association and was elected on behalf the Yiddishist camp to the board of the Estonian Jewish Cultural Council. Ya‘akov Gensch (1898–1924) became active toward the end of World War I in the Zionist movement and edited the bulletin of its central committee in Estonia. He was one of Tartu’s representatives at the Conference of Estonian Jews that took place in that city, and was elected by the Fraynt fun Yidish group as a representative to the Jewish Cultural Council on which both Ya‘akov and Natan served. Yosef (Joe) Gensch was one of two Tartu Jews who joined the Gedud ha-‘Ivri (Jewish Legion) in World War I (the other was Me’ir Naḥum Murshak).

The daughters of the Gensch family also participated in public life and until the Russian takeover of Estonia in 1940 were active in the Women’s Aid Association of Tartu, founded in 1934. Liyova Brashinski (née Gensch; dates unknown) helped manage the local branch of WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) until 1940.

One branch of the Gensch family left Tartu after World War I. They settled in Elva, Estonia, and operated a pharmacy.

Suggested Reading

Dov Levin, ed., Pinkas ha-kehilot: Latviyah ve-Estonyah (Jerusalem, 1988), see the list of Estonian personalities in the index; Leni Yaḥil, Ha-Sho’ah: Goral yehude Eropah, 1932–1945, vol. 1, p. 388 (Jerusalem, 1987).



Translated from Hebrew by I. Michael Aronson