The Gelfers: Eastern talents that bloomed in the West

If you are collector of British WW2 artifacts and uniforms in particular, you probably know what name A & J Gelfer stands for. And even though it is hard to find much information about this business, which was located at Bridgetown, Glasgow and ran until the 1990s, it was a company advertised in its day for “comfy hats” and ties. Known for its quality, A & J Gelfer also manufactured hats for the war forces, which can still be found today on the various auction websites where this brand is commented as a certain mark of the item’s authenticity.

Gelfer family in 1924 (Eliezer centre), courtesy of the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre (www.sjac.org.uk)

What also stands behind this company name is an interesting family story, and one of the family member’s connection to the University of Glasgow. The Gelfers arrived in Scotland from the then Russian Empire, the town of Utsyany, which is modern day Utena in Lithuania. While the sons Jack and Abram established the aforementioned clothing business, Eliezer enrolled at the University of Glasgow to study Medicine, obtaining the triple qualification from Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1923.  He worked as a General Medical Practitioner in the Gorbals, Glasgow, and gained British citizenship 1947. Before he passed away in 1972, he was also known as chazzan (a Jewish Cantor) in Ayr.

Like many Jewish families coming from Eastern Europe during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Gelfers contributed to the history and memory of the local community with their various activities in Glasgow, which became a second home for the family.

By Gintare Venzlauskaite, MSc Russian, Central & Eastern European Studies.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Gelfers: Eastern talents that bloomed in the West

  1. Sasha Levy

    Hi. I’m Eliezer’s granddaughter, now living in Israel and also a GU graduate. I always thought the family came from Riga, How did you come by this information? I’d love to know more. Lovely.
    Sasha Levy

    • kamcdonald

      Hi Sasha, Thanks for getting in touch with us as a GU alumnus and granddaughter of Eliezer. We take the birth place from the student matriculation slip, which are filled out by the student themselves. Eliezer gave Utsyany, Government of Kovno, Russia as his birth place. I have uploaded your grandfather’s matriculation slip to let you see: http://www.internationalstory.gla.ac.uk/person/?id=WH25117 (in the ‘images’ tab, you’ll see the reference R8/5/40/3 in the ‘sources’ tab). You can also enlarge the image: http://universitystory.gla.ac.uk/images/UGSP02136.jpg to get a clearer look at his handwriting – but obviously, nothing is more clear than looking at the original – and you are welcome to do that at Archive Services anytime (http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/archives/), where the student records of the University are held.
      Hope this helps, and we look forward to welcoming you back to Glasgow one day.
      Best wishes,
      Kerry

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