My Ancestors

It is hard to tell how our family roots have combined and which genetic ingredients are prevailing. German, Estonian, Russian and possibly Jewish people are part of my heritage.

We don't know much about the parents of Woldemar Eichhorn. Their names are known, Mart(in) Orrav and Anna Filipowa. She was born in Pärnu, South Estonia. No picture of Martin exists. He was Estonian and worked for Baltic German landlords. His father was known as "Sauna-Hans" ("Steambath John"). They were serfs. Anna did not look Estonian at all. My Grandmother wrote in her memory book: "She had a slight hooknose and natural curls." Her hair was very dark.

There were rumours that Anna Filipowa was Jewish. But Jews were not allowed to live in Estonia before 1865, and she was born 1833 in Estonia.

Anna Filipowa

Anna Filipowa (1833-1903)

She belonged to the Russian orthodox church. In Lithunia, the name Filipov is frequent among the Jewish.

Woldemar Eichhorn
Woldemar Eichhorn/Wladimir Orrav

Woldemar was the father of my Grandmother

Ellen Eichhorn, my grandmother

Ellen Berta Vineta Eichhorn (1887-1974)

Together with his brother Alexander, he founded a forge in Tallinn's Wall Street. They also repaired water and toilet ducts. He had about 30 employees. Many of his customers were Jews, and my mother remembered that he spoke Yiddish with them. As his father was Estonian, he may have learnt it from his mother.

The forge in the Wall Street with company name in the Twenties. Right: The same view in 2006. The tower roof has been replaced.

Another Foto in Flickr

When he died in 1921, his birth certificate could not be found, but one with an unknown name instead: Vladimir Orrav.

This made clear that the Family was Estonian with Russian connections, not a German one. Yet, my Grandmother never stopped claiming they were Germans. Not to be German was embarrassing for some members of our family.

Also Woldemar knew that in the Tsarist Baltic province the only way to make a career and join the "good" society was to pretend he was German. He had left Pärnu, the province town in South Estonia, had changed his name, joint the protestant Christian Church.

He did not allow his wife and children to have contact with his sisters. This is reported in the memory book of my Grandmother.


At that time, there was a kind of apartheid between the Baltic Germans and the Estonians, the white negroes of the Baltic provinces. I can hardly imagine why this girl married a serf. Did she want to get rid of a compromising name by all means? A German of the Baltic society would not have married a serf. Never ever. Also the Russians in the Baltic countries used to keep to their own kind. My grandma spoke of relatives who had switched to the Russian society and lifestile with hardly hidden contempt. She called them "verrusst" which sounds very similar to "sooty".

When the serfs were freed through Tzar Alexander II, Anna and Mart probably were already married. Did she suggest this interesting name Orrav? Is there any significance in reading it as Aruv or Eruv? We know many examples of Jews being baptized to escape from life danger or at least harassment. Joining the orthodox church allowed them to settle in Estonia, before the Tsar gave his permission.