Friday, March 28, 2014


Last Friday, March 21, 2014 I was able to leave work early to fulfill Find a Grave photo requests at Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park. It was the first time I had been at Waldheim since last December 15th because of the harsh winter we had this year.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going through cemetery withdrawal.  The time from December 15 to March 21 (96 days) is the longest I have been away from Waldheim since I started photographing graves there almost seven years ago.  It felt great to be back.  

After I took care of the photo requests I did what I always do when I am at Waldheim, I wandered around looking for interesting gravestones to photograph.  Here's one I thought looked interesting:

It was for a woman names Lillian Reznick Ott who died on February 6, 1965.  On the tombstone, in place of a photo of Lillian Ott was this:

Before we take a closer look at the poem that Lillian Reznick Ott wrote, let's see what we can "dig up" about her.

Lillian Reznick was born Lillie Reznick on August 18, 1898 in Russia (present day Belarus) to Moishe Leib Reznick aka Morris L. Reznick (1875-1957)  and Sara Fay, nee Gofseyeff (1875-1940).  Moishe and Sarah had a total of nine children all together - the first six were born in Russia and the last three were born in Chicago:
Lillian (1898-1965), twins Rose (1900-1900) and Mary (1900-1984), Julius (1902-1980), Hyman (1904-1973), Samuel (1906-1981), Sylvia (1910-2005), Michael (1911-1968) and Nathan (b 1916).

Here is a photo of the Reznick family before they came to the United States - probably 1908 or early 1909:

Moishe Reznick came to the United States first, arriving August 1, 1906, and once established sent for Sarah and the children who arrived in 1909.  The 1910 US Census shows them living at 1334 W. Washburne in Chicago.  Unfortunately today 1334 W. Washburne is a vacant lot:

1334 W. Washburne Avenue, Chicago 

Moishe Reznick was a butcher by trade.

On June 26, 1918 Lillian married Frank William Ott (1894-1931) in Chicago.

Frank William Ott was born March 6, 1894 in Chicago to Charles Ott, Jr. and an unknown mother.  Frank had two older siblings:  a brother William (1890-????) and a sister Minnie (1892-????).

The 1920 US Census shows Frank and Lillian Ott living at 3120 W. Fillmore Street in Chicago.  3120 W. Fillmore is today another vacant lot.

3120 W. Fillmore Street, Chicago

Frank listed his native tongue as "German" Lillian listed hers as "Jewish." Frank was employed as a Checker at the Butler Brothers grocery store in downtown Chicago.  There was an addition to the family as well, Little Jacob Marvin Ott had been born on January 27, 1919. (Jacob Ott went on to become a famous rabbi, and was the spiritual director  of Sephardic Temple Tefereth Israel in West Los Angeles, California for 34 years).

There were other additions to the family during that time.  Little Molke (Myra) Ott was born November 27, 1920, followed by Tybie (Tybel) Ott in 1925 and Esther Ott on February 28, 1930.

But all was not happiness for the Ott family.  Myra died on November 20, 1927 at the age of 7.

The 1930 US Census finds the Ott family living at 1312 S. Turner (now Christiana) Avenue in Chicago. You guessed it - 1312 S. Christiana is another vacant lot today:

1312 S. Christiana Avenue, Chicago

Their rent was $37.00 per month.  Frank now listed his job as a Conductor on the Chicago Surface Lines.  Lillian now listed her mother tongue as "Yiddish".

Tragedy was to deal the Ott family a double blow at the beginning of the 1930s.  First, Frank Ott died on September 5, 1931 at the age of 37:

followed by the death of little Esther Ott on August 21, 1932 at the age of 2.

Myra, Frank and Esther are all buried at Jewish Waldheim at Gate #40 - Anshe Motola:

Unfortunately all of their photos which were attached to the tombstone have either been stolen, or disintegrated in the Chicago weather.

Life went on for Lillan Reznick Ott as a single mother.  The 1940 US Census shows her living at 3644 W. Douglas Boulevard, in the heart of the old Jewish neighborhood:

3644 W. Douglas Boulevard, Chicago

Lillian was now 41, Jacob (now called "Jack") was 21 and Tybie was 15. Lillian listed her profession as "Operator in a Leather Factory."

It is not known when Lillian Reznick Ott started writing poetry, but as early as 1941 her poems were being published in The Sentinel (The American Jewish Weekly) magazine.  Here is one of her poems from the December 4, 1941 Sentinel:

Executed Hostages 

No drums, no taps, no bugle corps,
Call to salute at your grave;
Sleep as peacefully

No cannon roar, no flashing guns,
Bloody fields or battle cry;
Sleep as peacefully dared to die.

No sentinel guarding at your tomb,
No colorful banner your shroud;
Sleep as peacefully
Martyrs...a people's proud

Here is a poem she wrote for the birthday of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that was published in The Sentinel on January 27, 1944:

In Honor of the Birthday of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Even the mighty fall,
For God, Who created might,
Created none
To withstand His Own.
Only these
Find favor in his plan,
Mercy, truth and justice,
Among men.  And 'tis these alone
Above all the powers that be,
That shares with God
Of ageless immortality.

Most of the Sentinel magazines from the 1940s contain poems from Lillian Reznick Ott.

Perhaps because of her nationwide exposure, in 1949 Exposition Press in New York published a 176 page book of her poetry called "Teardrops and Dew."  This was before the days of self-publishing - meaning that her poetry must have been pretty good if a New York publishing house decided to print some of it. 

Admittedly poetry is not for everyone, but her book was favorably reviewed by The Saturday Review on September 17, 1949:

TEAR DROPS AND DEW by Lillian Reznick Ott, Exposition Press, New York, $2.50.  In the 176 pages of this volume, there is a range from the prophetic voice of tradition to the sheer doggerel of patriotism and journalism.  Nothing escapes the observing eye of Mrs. Ott.  All is translated in rhymed opinion and indignation.  From a nationalistic point of view, she recounts the tragedy of the Jew in the recent war, and she sings of his hope in a new land under the flag of his own making.  All this is told in enthusiastic and undisciplined rhymes.  In the occasional poem stemming from Talmudic lore, however, there are flights worthy of a prophet, songs which carry the ring of tradition in them.  Her poem of the Hebrew alphabet, in which we hear the child learning by rote, not only the letters, Aleph, Beth, Giml, but the whole history and culture of a people during centuries of oppression and heartbreak, compensates for the welter of words of other poems that are of a low bardic order.

Lillian Reznick Ott died February 7, 1965 (her tombstone says suddenly) at the age of 66 in Los Angeles, California.  She had moved from Chicago to Los Angeles about 1955 to be near her son the rabbi. Although she died in LA, she was buried back in Chicago with the members of her family who had predeceased her - her husband Frank, and daughters Myra and Esther.  Here is her obituary from the Chicago Daily Tribune of February 9, 1965:

Once she was living on the west coast she had begun contributing poetry to "The Voice" but I was unable to find any to share with you here except the one from her tombstone:

Mortal, Yet Immortal Too

I am I
Knowing that one day I shall die,
Perhaps tremble before the night
Like the sea running shoreward at end of day.
But it will be a momentary fear
A short shudder, then,
Relaxed of all care and all want
I shall slip into poetic oblivion.
Or heaven?  Or hell?  No matter
Save that I who am I
Shall be dead.
Then shall they come forward to speak of me
Kindly, generously, perhaps even lovingly,
And surely charitably -
But who shall have known me?

I am I
And if no one knows I live
Who shall know me when I die?\

Yet I am I,
A body, a soul, a mind;
I think and dream and love and hate.
I hunger and yearn and challenge and vie,
But if no one knows me while I live
Who shall know me when I die?...

Lillian Reznick Ott - may she rest in peace.

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