More than 90 descendants gathered earlier this year to celebrate the centenary of the Polonsky family’s arrival in Melbourne from Ukraine in 1923.
Myer Polonsky’s granddaughter Karen Klein said, “It was a really happy family get-together; a couple of the older members of the family gave brief recollections.
“With four generations at the gathering, we found that some of the youngest kids knew each other through school without knowing they were cousins.
“We are all very grateful to have such a big family.”
In 1913 Yochanan Polonsky with his older brother Raphael travelled from Russia to Brisbane, where many Jews had settled. They worked as labourers in the cane fields and on the railway.
The two brothers learned English and combined their resources to establish a drapery business in the Riverina region of New South Wales. Raphael managed the main store in the rail-head town of Hay, while Yochanan managed a branch store in West Wyalong, NSW.
Just before the outbreak of World War I, they sent the sum of £100 to their father specifying that it was to bring the entire family out of Russia.
The 14-member group came by ship via Constantinople (Istanbul). When the Polonsky family embarked from Batumi, on a Friday afternoon early in April 1922, the Jewish passengers assembled on the deck for Kabbalat Shabbat. According to Alec, who was 20 years old, everyone participated. In his old age, he could still remember their strong and heartfelt singing, such was their collective relief at escaping Russia.
Raphael paid the migration cost of more than £2,000 and looked after his family until all were fully settled in Australia.
Just four months after their parents had disembarked, the first Australian-born members of the family, Roy and Miriam, were welcomed, 10 days apart, in October 1923.
From 1930 to the 1950s, four of the Polonsky brothers operated a kosher butcher shop in Rathdowne Street, Carlton, which continued trading until the 1970s.