Ashkenazi Salmans

The origin of my surname has always been something of a mystery. Unlike other branches of my family, the Salmans have been largely untraceable. No vital records have been found from the town in Poland whence they came, Hrubieszow, nor from neighbouring towns in the Lublin Voivodship.

In 2004, I visited my father’s 77-year-old cousin who survived WWII in Paris but lost her parents, who perished in the camps, and baby brother, who was killed along with his nanny during an Allied bombing raid on the outskirts of Paris towards the end of the war. She told me that our name was originally spelled Zalman and that the family came from Pinsk, Belarus. She actually spells her maiden name Szalman, which is common to both Poland and Hungary.

I have never been able to corroborate this story, mainly because I’ve been unable to access records in Belarus from abroad. However, my research on JRI Poland and other databases on, reveals that most Salmans came from Belarus, specifically from Grodno province and its capital Bialystok, which is nowhere near Pinsk.

Origin of the name

Salman is most likely a derivate of Solomon, as in King Solomon of Israel. Variant spellings include Salomon, Salamon, Salaman, Shalman, Szalman, Zalman, Zelman, Selman, Solman, Salmon, Sallmann, etc. The Arabic equivalent is Suleiman and its variants Sleiman, Sliman, Slimani; however, Salman is more common as a Muslim first name for boys, especially in Pakistan.

Salman is also more of a popular first or second name for Jews, as is Salomon and Zalman. In fact, when German authorities assigned surnames for Jews starting in the 18th century, Salman might have gone from second name to surname. For example, certain descendants of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, whose patronymic surname was Borukhovich (after his father, Boruch), dropped their last name, replacing it with Zalman/Salman. (On an aside, other Zalman descendents adopted the patronymic Schneerson as their surname, as in the famous rebbe, Menachem and Meir Schneerson.)

Salman may also be a shortened version of the patronymic Salmanovitch, Salmanowicz, etc.

The Swedish Connection

In 2014, during a family Passover seder, I found out that my father’s oldest first cousin, in his early 80s, had relocated to a town near Malmo, Sweden with his Polish second wife (who had lived in Sweden during the 1970s), after living in California since the late 1960s. Albert Salman was born in Hrubieszow in the early 1930s, so he has a better memory of the place and the war, though it is too traumatizing for him to talk about. (My own father and his sister were born in 1942 in Uzbekistan, then part of the Soviet Union.)

Incidentally, around the same time two years ago, I was contacted via Poland by Kris Salman from Gothenberg, Sweden, on behalf of his father Jozef, who does not speak English. Kris told me that his Salmans come from Komarow, a village in the Lublin Gubernia, closer to Zamosc. I was immediately intrigued, not only because of the name and distance, but also other similarities between our family experiences, outlined in the table below.

Kris Salman (Komarow) Tara Salman (Hrubieszow)
Grandfather Izak Salman born in Komarow in 1912 (Izak’s father was Josef) Grandfather Isaac Salman born in Hrubieszow in 1913. (Isaac’s father was Jacob)
Grandfather was a tailor, from a family of 8, very poor Ancestors were tailors, from a family of 8.
Izak fled to Omsk, Russia during the Second World War. My grandfather, his brother and their families fled to the Soviet Union either during or before WW2 – Siberia, then Uzbekistan.
Izak and his wife returned to Szczecin, Poland after the war. My grandfather and his family returned to Szczecin, Poland after the war.

Like my family, Kris’s Komarow Salmans have been largely untraceable. A search on JRI Poland turns up nothing more than a 1876 marriage between a Szia Salman, originally from the town Laszczow, and a Chasie Szar. Kris’s great-grandfather Josef could have been the son of Szia, but at this point it’s all speculation. Since no vital records can be found, genetic testing is the only way Kris or his father and me or my brother (who seems to have inherited more Salman genes) can determine if we’re related at all, but not how.


One thought on “Ashkenazi Salmans

  1. Cohanes are the priestly group of our religious hierarchy as Jews. My father was a Cohane although I did not find this out till shortly before the end of his life. He never mentioned it, but he was requested to bless the congregation by the Rabbi at Temple Emanu-El in Toronto and somehow knew what to do. He lost his family who were German Jews from Whuppertal. I was able to get German documents which stated they were on a train going to Minsk, but the train never arrived. Trains not reaching a destination, meant the train was stopped, people taken off and shot en mass along side the rail or in the woods. His Father Albert Jacob was a religious WW1 verteran who ran a Linen making business. My grandmother, Adele Meyer was born in Alsace Lorraine, and twin sons, Hans and Werner were about 15 when they disappeared.
    My father was in Switzerland in school was sent to England and was gathered with other German Jews and Captured German soldiers and sent to an internment camp in the outskirts of Montreal called Camp B. There were 13 such camps in Canada. During their stay, the Jewish group objected to cohabiting with the German soldiers. The older men wanted to help the younger boys continue with their education and could provide learning and direction. They decided to go on a hunger strike and were successful in setting a line between themselves and the captured German soldiers or Commanders, so they could relax and support each other.
    The fact that my parents had daughters meant that the line of Cohanes ended with him. Even though he was a Cohane his sense of identity was defined by his European experince. Surviving in Facist Gemany when many wanted to assimilate has its difficult irony’s. Being a Cohane was in a way, part of his secret life. Growing up at this time in Germany, was a cue to tone down the Jewish notes. He made his name less historical and less Jewish. I realized he needed to know I was proud of who he was and my own heritage, so he removed the extra letter. I think it was a relief.
    He and my mother went to Europe to visit relatives several times and relatives from Europe visited from Danbach and from South America. I had living relatives. M father met my mother via my Aunt Ilsa who was related to my father’s family and married my mother’s oldest brother. My mother’s family came from Czechoslovakia in 38. My father arrived in Canada in 38. I was born 10 years later. My sister Frances arrived in 51.
    The loss of his family left an emotional scar. Many of his friends, who were in Camp B enjoyed the benefit of my mothers European cooking and baking specialty cakes that reminded them of the good things about their birth homes. My fathers’ love of talking and joking especially in German always amazed me, because he spoke it so beautifully. It was the only time he spoke German.
    Can I say my father as a Cohane was an example of something spiritual? I think he lived a life of good decisions, had inner conflicts but transgressed against no one. He enjoyed being in nature, where he was most in balance and enervated.
    Many gifts came to me from him. His hidden desire was to be an artist. His eye for detail was transformed in me and my sister as artistic design, his love of travel and discussion evolved into a sense of justice that is close to my skin because he garnered a secure life. He was not selfish. He gave me room to evolve. He taught me culture is who you are with all the levels and contradictions and that our actions count even when we are not gaining importance.

    January 22 2017

    Liked by 1 person

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