My great grandmother, Esther Malka Klieger, sold bathtub gin. How did this Yiddish-speaking immigrant get into “the bottle business?” She emigrated in 1906 from Ukraine with two small children and a pair of brass Sabbath candlesticks. She reunited with her husband Jacob on New York’s Lower East Side, and soon they ventured to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Though one of the small children she came with passed away, she raised Rae, and had Bessie, Sophie, Rosie, Paul and Lottie. In the early 1920s, her husband died of tuberculosis. Several years later, a rabbi matched her with a widower, but the marriage only lasted long enough to produce my grandmother, Inez. Esther divorced the second husband, and continued to raise her children. Of course, most of her life was devoted to the question of getting by and as child-rearing and housekeeping tied her to the home, operating a still in the bathtub seemed a reasonable, if short-term, endeavor. As Rosie would recall decades later, “Whenever company came over, one of us had to sit in the bathroom.” Rosie added, “She was a woman much to be admired for her raising her family. She was a tough cookie.” Eventually she passed the Sabbath candlesticks to Inez, who passed them on to me, and I bless them every Friday evening with my daughter, Lily. But the story of this Yiddish-speaking tough cookie who learned how to make and sell booze during tough times needs to be passed on, right along with the Sabbath candlesticks. 

Year: 1906

– Annie Polland

Relationship:  Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more Great-grandchild of im/migrant or more