Photo Archivist's Selection of the Month: : May
Dr. Jacob Nemoitin (1880–1963)
healer & humanitarian
painter & poet
“If any young man wants to study medicine, I think
the very first requirement: if he loves People. If he wants to do good, this
one of the best opportunities, because in no profession can you do so much good
to people as you can do in medicine... So if anybody is inclined to be that
by all means, be should take up medicine. If I would like to live over again,
I would want to practice medicine.”
Part of the text
below was adapted from the 1989 catalogue of an exhibition at at the Stamford Historical
Society (in conjunction with the
Jewish Historical Society of Greater Stamford, now The Jewish Historical Society
of Fairfield County) called ”Stamford's
& Humanitarian, Dr. Jacob Nemoitin (1880-1963)”
to current medical practice, Dr. Nemoitin made house calls; first by bicycle,
then by horse and buggy, but he still might use the bicycle because he did not
want to overwork his horse. He was remembered for his resourcefulness in traveling
to treat the sick. He was known to the coal, milk and ice wagon drivers, who
would divert their route to suit the doctor's needs. Eventually, he acquired
And unlike many other doctors, he was willing to travel long distances at awkward
hours; a number of his patients lived as far away as Mianus and New Canaan.
Born in 1880 in the village of Sushky in Russia, Jacob Nemoitin came
to this country with his family to escape the pogroms and difficulties
of Jewish life in his native land. Originally a photographer's assistant,
he studied for the New York Regents examinations, which were required
for his enrollment in Columbia University College of Medicine. Tuition
was one hundred dollars a year, which he earned through photography
while attending school. He graduated in 1905. He then served an internship
at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. It was there that he met his
future wife, Frances Einhorn, a student nurse.
months' residency followed at the New York Lying-in-Hospital (see diploma
on the right, dated October, 12, 1906). This experience proved invaluable,
since eventually he delivered 10,000 babies in Stamford. He practiced
for a short period on the lower East side of New York.
Doctor Nemoitin's parents, Joshua and Rebecca, had settled in Stamford
in 1898. His father was a Hebrew school teacher and a merchant. In 1902
they bought a farm in the Catskills, where they remained until returning
to Stamford in 1916.
Dr. Nemoitin heard from relatives in Stamford of the death—during a
typhoid epidemic—of the only Jewish doctor in town. He saw this as an
opportunity to begin a practice in Stamford, then a town of 14,000. The
year was 1907.
His practice focused on the immigrant community, since he was one himself.
To his knowledge of several languages, Russian, German, Polish, and
Yiddish, he added Italian, which he learned with the help of an Italian
priest, Edison cylinder records, and Italian medical books.
He had an empathy with immigrants. The babble of languages and the
mixture of Eastern European cultures in Stamford's tenements reminded
him daily of the world he, and they, had had to leave behind. And like
him, they had come through Castle Garden and later Ellis Island, to
make a new way and create a new nation.
The sign at 96 Main Street,
his office and residence (see
left) does not show days of the week, which must have meant that he
was always available, "24/7" as we say nowadays.
He became something of a local legend, especially in the Italian
and Polish communities, for his empathy and medical skills. In one case, he
correctly diagnosed worms in a child who had all the symptoms of meningitis.
He cured several children of pneumonia where other doctors either had failed
or did not have the time.
Another story is about a young Polish boy who was very ill.
His parents could barely speak English and had very little money. The mother
knew the child was terribly sick and she thought that perhaps it was God's
will that the child be taken from her. However, Dr. Nemoitin refused to consider
the situation hopeless, operated on the youngster, and in three months' time
the child was fully recovered. Inspired by this incident, the patient later
went on to study medicine, and as fate would have it, found himself in the
same class as the doctor's son. He ultimately became a professor of pediatrics.
An excerpt from The Stamford Trader of August 10, 1989, in connection
with an upcoming exhibition about the doctor, too dwells on his humanitarianism:
“…The stories about the late Dr. Jacob Nemoitin of Stamford and his humanitarianism are legion.
Dr. Nemoitin practiced medicine in
Stamford from 1906 to 1963, the year of his death, providing medical services
and general support to, among others, the city's vast immigrant population.
He spoke Russian, Polish, Italian and English, and was well known in all the
immigrant neighborhoods. Prolific in deliveries, he brought thousands of Stamfordites
into the world.
‘e brought me into this world,’ remembers Geno Lupinacci, who was born Oct. 1, 1916. Mr. Lupinacci owns a
monument-making business in Stamford, and his father, an Italian immigrant,
worked in a hat factory and a chocolate factory before becoming a carpenter.
Lupinacci remembers Dr. Nemoitin as a guardian angel in the neighborhood,
as well as a medical practitioner. 'Whenever he saw kids in the streets
in the need of shoes, he'd send them down to a shoe store like Charlie Leventhal's,
and he'd pay for the shoes,' said Mr. Lupinacci.
Marcus of the Stamford Historical Society said that, while making calls
during the Depression to households
that could not afford heat, Dr. Nemoitin was known to slip money under a
pillow with a note reading, ‘Buy coal’.”
He would accept goods instead of money, be it victuals or other,
such as an icebox he swapped for delivering a baby. One family killed a pig
each year to be used as sausage for payments to the doctor. He would accept
the payment, but it was well known that he did not keep it, rather he would
pass it on to a needy family.
The photo above
right is of a certificate of membership in an Italian mutual benefit society
in town, ”Provincia Di Caserta.” Dr. Nemoitin was the society's physician.
Dr. Nemoitin's son, Dr. Bernard Nemoitin, who followed in his
father's foot steps but became a surgeon, recalled the following in a 1977
interview with The Bridgeport Sunday Post:
“Night and day was the same to him. When someone needed him, no matter what the time, he would go where he was called.
night I was born], my father wasn't home, He was out delivering a baby.
And the night he died, he had just finished giving a fellow a physical examination
for a boxing license.”
Two undated photos of Dr. Nemoitin and his young
Nonetheless, Dr. Nemoitin had time for other pursuits, such as painting
and poetry. The painting below right is a portrait of his father, Joshua
Nemoitin, at age 70. The paintings are part of the holdings of the Stamford
Murky Winter, 1945
In 1962, Dr. Nemoitin gave
an oral history interview, describing his youth in Western Russia. It's
a vivid recollection of Jewish life in Russia in
the late 19th century.
HOW I WAIT FOR MY END
With no fear and no sorrow
I wait for my end
The eternal sleep
Must follow a long and useful life
Right now I wish to be remembered
For this I call eternity
The mark of life
The trail of life benevolent...
Looking back as I remember
I hurt no one intentionally
And my healing art
Was my constant drive...
I therefore have no fear or sorrow
For the final eternal sleep...
Dr. Bernard Nemoitin, Dr. Nemoitin's son, is active at the Stamford
Historical Society and other community affairs.
Here he is seen at a lecture event in 2001 at the Society, chatting with the publisher
of The Stamford Advocate & Greenwich Time,
Durham J. Monsma.
Postscript: Dr. Nemoitin passed away November 16, 2004 at age 96
History Interview: Dr. Jacob Nemoitin, 1962
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Photos © Stamford Historical Society
B&W photos © Janet Schneider