1914 Warsaw Telephone Directory
Whenever people see me browsing through old directories, they express their surprise that I can spend hours looking at lists of names which, in their eyes, seems to be utterly boring. But for me old directories can be as mesmerizing as a good detective story. In fact, they have a lot of stories to tell and can teach one a chapter in history. Take, for example, my recently acquired 1914 Warsaw Telephone Directory (Page 1), which, by the way, seems to be quite a unique genealogical resource.
The directory contains approximately 25,000 entries out of a population of roughly 800,000. Each entry carries the following information: phone number, family name, first name (quite often only initial[s]), address, and profession or occupation or business name. Non-business phones are listed as “Residence”.
The directory is divided into two parts: an alphabetical listing of all the subscribers and listings by profession/occupation/business, which does not, of course, contain private phone numbers. This section is supplemented by an index of names which, in my copy of the directory, ends with the letter O. But this is of little importance as one can always find a person in the first part.
As is the case with other pre-WWII Polish directories, the percentage of Jewish-sounding names is enormous, possibly about 65-70% of all the entries. Some pages seem to contain only Jewish names and, at first glance at least, look quite similar to the old Israeli telephone directories in English (Page 2). This is, of course, explained by the vocational structure of Polish Jewry, most of whom owned businesses and needed a telephone connection much more than their non-Jewish neighbors, many of whom were employees.
One of the most interesting listings in the directory is the Warsaw Jewish community. It contains 17 phone numbers which clearly reflect its internal structure and ways of operating (Page 3).
And here is another point of interest: while browsing through the directory I was suddenly surprised by half a page of Russian names. But of course! This is 1914 and Warsaw, as well as central Poland in general, is still a part of the Russian Empire. The names belong to the Russian Military Administrator (“General Gubernator” in the directory) and his staff (Page 4). But even among the Russian names there is a Jewish one: Rufin R. Szulman, Assistant to the Gubernator for Special Affairs. One can only wonder what were the “special affairs” handled by Mr. Szulman. Maybe procuring loans for the Gubernator?