The family name “Nemetz” is the Russian word for “German” and in the 19th century when surnames became mandatory, the family apparently used “Nemetz” and “Deutsch” (Yiddish for “German”) interchangeably. The earliest known ancestors of Vancouver’s Nemetz family were Avrum (1800–1860) and Surah Nemetz. Avrum’s son, David Nemetz (1830–1892), was also known as “Dudie Deutsch.”
The youngest son was Abraham, who became the patriarch of the Nemetz family that emigrated to Canada.
Abraham (Avrum) Nemetz was born in 1865. He married Toba (pronounced Tooba) Pollock, and they had nine children. Often referred to as Avrum “Kotsuf” or Avrum the butcher, Abraham was well respected and delivered meat to a nearby hospital. He was also a merchant who traded in wheat. Abraham and Toba lived a comfortable life in Svatatroiske, belonging to the upper class merchants’ shul. As Ben Dayson recalled, “It had a wooden floor, not a dirt floor like the workers’ shul had.”
The Nemetz family lived in a fine house with lilac and fruit trees. Pheasants and peacocks ran freely across their yard and farm animals were close by. They employed a maid. The Rabbi and Schohet lived next door. Life was for the most part good.The older sons had already left the village in the early 1910s, becoming the first generation to settle in Canada. Many family members still remained in Russia.
Toba became ill and the children moved temporarily to a neighbour’s house across the street. A travelling fortune teller came one day and said to the youngest child, Nadia (later known as Esther), “If you give me a piece of bread, I will tell your fortune.”
So Nadia took her across the street to see her mother. The woman told Toba that they were going to leave. A blonde man would come to get them and they would go across water.
Toba felt she would never live to see America but the woman insisted she would recover well enough to travel, although her husband Abraham would not live long after he arrived.
Several months later, a blonde man acting as an agent arrived, saying he had come to take them to Poland where a family member would be waiting to take them across the ocean.
Their son David welcomed them at the border and prepared them for their new life. They arrived in Canada on September 3, 1922, aboard the R.M.S. Antonia, docking at Halifax.
Abraham died five years later, leaving Toba the matriarch.