This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Music Without Borders

27 November 2015

These children have traveled a long way from home. I know where they started, and I know how they joined my photograph collection, but their journey in between is a mystery. Is it mother who draws their gaze off to the side of the camera? In later years did their children marvel at their youthful likenesses. Did some grandchild safeguard this photo inside the family album while emigrating to a new country? What great great niece forgot their lineage and sold their photo to an antique dealer? We can never know, as all that remains of their names or lives is this charming image of a sister and brother. 

The two siblings are posed artfully on a photographer's studio chair and pedestal. The girl is perhaps 6 or 7 years old, with her hair either cut with a boyish style or drawn back behind her neck. She stands on a chair with a book in one hand and a protective arm around the shoulder of her little towhead brother. He sits on a pedestal and looks about age 4 or 5. He holds a kind of recorder or penny whistle instrument. Though his hands are in the right playing position, both the whistle and book may only serve the photographer as props to limit the natural fidgetiness of small children.

Despite some scratches the image has a lot of clarity, the mark of a good camera. The photographer's name and location is printed at the bottom of this small carte de visite photograph.

J. Poruznik — Bieltzy



The back of the card has an elaborate engraved design.

Photographisches Atelier
J. Poruznik
vormals (formerly)
A. Kluczenko


Surrounding the proprietor's name are eight impressive medallions depicting awards won in 1875 by the photographer in Wien, Linz, Stanislawow, and Brussels. I would judge the photo to be a bit younger than the 1875 date, maybe 1880-85. The German words and names are because the city of Czernowitz was then part of the vast Austrian Empire. Today it is called Chernivtsi and is in Ukraine.

In one corner are Russian words with Cyrillic letters made by a rubber ink stamp. The second word means photographer so I suspect they indicate that copies may be had at any time, or words to that effect. But the language difference is due to the place name, Bieltzy, on the front of the cdv. It was quite common for successful photographers to open branch studios in other towns that were run by former apprentices. In 1880, this small town called Bieltzy, or Beltzy, was in Bessarabia, then part of the Russian Empire. In the 21st century it is now known as Bălți, Moldova.


The Austrian Empire comprised dozens of ethnic and national peoples under the authoritarian rule of Kaiser Franz Josef. The city of Czernowitz was about 600 miles east of Wien and was the capital of the Duchy of Bukovina. At one time Jewish residents were the largest percentage of the population, at over 25%, followed by Romanians, Germans, and Ukrainians. It is said that the famous Jewish melody, Hava Nagilah, was composed in Czernowitz. After 1918 the city became part of Romania, and after 1945 it was taken over by the Russian Soviet Union. 

Bieltzy was a much smaller town located another 125 miles east in what was then a Russian province. By 1890 it was an important rail hub of Eastern Europe. And it too was a center of Jewish culture. According to this website, in 1897 it had a population of 18,478 residents, divided into the following ethnic groups.  
  • Jews - 10,323
  • Russians - 3,627
  • Moldovans - 3,157
  • Ukrainian - 581
  • Polish - 533
  • Germans - 103
  • Armenians - 50
  • Greeks - 16
  • Bulgarians - 7
  • Gipsy - 6
  • Gagauz - 3
  • The rest - 72

Source: The Internet


This postcard shows another brother and sister, perhaps ages 11-13. The taller boy wears a large wool cap and heavy peasant boots while playing a recorder-like instrument very similar to the Bieltzy boy's whistle. His barefoot sister clutches his arm as she looks apprehensively into the camera lens. The caption reads:

Russian Types - Shepherds  

This pair might have considered themselves Russian citizens, but as the postcard was produced for the soldiers of  the Kaiser's German Army advancing toward an Eastern Front in 1914, they more likely spoke Polish or Ukrainian. The back of the card is dated 17 June 1916 and sent by German military Feldpost.

The two children from Bieltzy might be Jews, or Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox Christians. Who can tell? The young shepherds  might be Poles, or Ukrainians, or Romani (i.e. Gypsies). It is now too late to know, and does it really matter?  At some time over the next several decades, 1900 - 1991, people of every language, religion, and culture in this part of Eastern Europe became refugees. Families compelled to abandon their homes and property and take to the road. Constantly on the move, displaced by violent forces and in fear for their lives, people sought sanctuary anywhere that seemed safer than where they were.

Entire populations of Polish and Ukrainian towns were forcibly moved east, then west, and back again by one despot after another. Some ethnic groups like the Jews and the Romani, were murdered on a horrific scale still too monstrous to completely comprehend. People with contrary political beliefs, considered just as suspect as religious faith or national origin, were terrorized into secret prison camps. It begs repeating that history demands we not forget their suffering.

Which brings me to an unexpected feature that I found when browsing through the infinite internet. I wanted to convey the disquieting quality that I see in these two antique images of children. There is something chilling about knowing the location of their homelands and the time frame of their future. I went in search of an image of 21st century refugee children.

I found this.

A real story of our time
about a small Syrian child with a musical instrument.
An "instrument" so silly it only adds to the pathos of the boy's life.
Please watch it and t
hink of this boy's courage, his dream of peace.
Then consider what you would want for your children.

The following video was made for CNN and broadcast on November 27, 2014.
The original CNN article follows as published on their website.



In the busy streets, shoppers and workers rush by the homeless little boy with a flute -- some dropping change, but most ignoring him.

Sitting on the sidewalk in Istanbul, Turkey, his head is barely above knee height of the adults around him. But he plays on -- for hours, knowing that each coin or note can help his family survive another day.

The flute is a cheap one, but it is key to their struggle. The money he makes -- usually about $10 a day -- will help feed his mom and four siblings.

The family escaped the horrors of war in Aleppo, Syria, and he says they now live in a park. He does not say which park or if they have a tent for shelter at night.

According to U.N figures, there are about 1 million registered refugees in Turkey, but the country says the total is closer to 1.6 million. Research from the Migration Policy Centre adds that in the last couple of months, there has been another spike as Syrians flee the rise of ISIS.

The boy says he has been in Turkey for about a year.

He plays falteringly and his young face looks innocent, but he knows the cruelty of war. He says his dad died in Aleppo, which has seen some of the fiercest fighting in Syria and is a rebel stronghold that President Bashar al-Assad's army has attacked.

The boy, who says he is 6, complains that his head hurts and talks of the guns back in Aleppo.

As he plays on, he is relying on the kindness of strangers and watching for police patrols, as begging on the streets is illegal.

When police do see him -- this time as he walks back to his makeshift home -- an officer confiscates his flute.

But he cannot be kept down. A new flute is $5 -- half his daily profit -- but if he is to play on, if he is to help feed his family, if they are to have some hope, it's a small expense.

And tomorrow, he will play again.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
click the link for more children at play.


Liz Needle said...

A fascinating post - you have done so much research. A most poignant video of the yound lad and the flute.

Jo Featherston said...

Children are the innocent, undeserving victims of their parents' circumstances. I must say I never think of busking as being the same as begging. The photosand video together with your backgrounding about them are very moving.

Deb Gould said...

I love your posts, Mike...I always learn something, wonder about something, connect something.

Anonymous said...

The haircut and the embroidered blouse in first image immediately suggest the east side of Europe but you have gone so much further than that generality. Sometimes the inequalities in life are too much to bear.

Postcardy said...

I think the Russian types image is disturbing and unflattering.The people seem to be treated as stereotypes of an inferior "race."

Kristin said...

Sad and depressing and never ending. Poor humanity.

Wendy said...

I wonder if the children in the photos played their flutes to feed their families. The video and countless similar videos on tv feature children robbed of their youth. It saddens me how in every case, they can talk about war and describe a massacre of their families with as much emotion as we give to saying, "I went to Walmart today."

Little Nell said...

A very sobering post, and that first image is simply haunting.

Barbara Rogers said...

Eastern Europe and going into the "Middle East" are certainly places where every kind of person has had to flee various kinds of persecution or politically motivated wars. The children with flutes is a great theme that you've woven from these photos and the video...not only to enjoy the beauty of their youth, but to wonder about their status in their lives. Thanks.


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