FINDING DAVID BLUMENFELD  

THE DIARY OF A 19TH CENTURY JEWISH IMMIGRANT IN THE MIDWEST

One of the thousands of immigrants from Latvia settling in the United States in the 1880s was my great-grandfather, David Blumenfeld. David arrived in Michigan with his mother and siblings in 1884, a year after his father had made the epic voyage on his own. David, whose only skill was as a tailor, and who had but $15 to his name when he arrived, relocated in the ensuing years between Michigan, Minnesota, and Chicago, seeking work and opening tailoring shops in his search for financial success. Finally, in 1902, he settled in a small town down-river of St. Paul, Minnesota, and opened a men’s clothing store.

Over the course of the next several decades David and his growing family found prosperity, built a home, helped to create a vibrant Jewish community life in their Midwestern town, and deepened his new American roots. While devoting most of his time to his store, he also found hours to read voluminously and, most important to our story, to write. He authored a shelf-full of journals, several books of poetry, and nearly a dozen novels, ensconced in the tiny back room of his store in the early morning hours. Shortly before his death in 1956 he self-published two books, but the bulk of his work was, or so my family was told, lost upon his death.

Until 2008, that is, when a box of his manuscripts, including one entitled Diary, was discovered by one of David’s great-grandsons, an accidental find in the midst of a house move. The box had been passed since David’s death between relatives who either had no interest or were troubled by its contents. Suddenly, nearly ninety years after they were written and more than fifty years after David’s death, we can read his words and, for the first time in our lives, hear the stories of this Minnesota maskil.



         Frederick Hertz