Gertrude Nitzberg, 81, teacher, collector of Yiddish stories, songs

September 28, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Gertrude Nitzberg, a teacher who collected Yiddish folk songs and stories of old Baltimore, died Sunday of complications from cancer and diabetes at Charlestown Care Center. She was 81 and had lived in Mount Washington for many years.

Fluent in Yiddish, she interviewed elderly Baltimoreans to collect their memories of life here in the early 1900s. She also gathered 500 Jewish songs on tape for the old Jewish Historical Society, now the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

"She was a pioneer who showed the society the kind of community-based activities it should take," said Bernard Fishman, former Jewish Museum director, who now heads the Lehigh County Historical Society in Allentown, Pa. "She was an impressive and inspirational woman with a vision of what the essential tasks of a community museum should be."

In 1975, Mrs. Nitzberg joined the Jewish Historical Society of Maryland and began visiting the homes of elderly Baltimoreans to tape-record their memories of childhood, customs and family life. She also recorded their songs and made musical notations of them for the society's library.

In 1994 Mrs. Nitzberg wrote and published a family history, "My Heritage: The Luskins," which recounted her mother's family story from its roots in Russia through its immigrant experience in the United States.

Born in Middletown, Pa., Gertrude Singer moved to Baltimore in the 1930s when her father's department store failed in the Depression. She lived with relatives who owned a women's notions store in the 2900 block of Greenmount Ave.

She attended Eastern High School and studied piano at Peabody Preparatory. The family moved to Buffalo, N.Y., and she graduated from Buffalo State Teachers College. She later studied at the Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore Hebrew College.

She began her teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse in Collins, N.Y. In 1963 she entered the Baltimore public school system and held positions at Pimlico Junior High and City College, where she was a French teacher. She retired in 1973.

Mrs. Nitzberg had been a member of the old Garrison Democratic Club and worked for the re-election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. She also belonged to the League Chapter of Labor Zionism and Fellowship House, a Preston Street organization that brought black and white citizens together.

She also belonged to the Jewish Community Center and the Brandeis University National Women's Committee.

In 1940, she married Silven Nitzberg, an accountant, who survives her.

Services were held yesterday at Sol Levinson & Brothers Home.

She is also survived by three daughters, Eileen F.N. Collard of Minneapolis, Rita Goodell of Arlington, Va., and Dale Nitzberg of Silver Spring; a brother, Leonard Singer of Oberlin, Ohio; and three grandsons.

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