Moshe Feldenkrais was born on the 6th of May 1904 in Sławuta. Sławuta was founded by the magnate family of Polish princes of Sanguszko with the coat of arms Pogoń Litewska around 1620.
Feldenkrais arrived in the area of Volyn most probably between 1795 and 1812. Before that, they lived in the vicinity of Sandomierz where they most probably came from Germany in the 16th century.
The name Feldenkrais raises a lot of controversy among researchers and biographers of Feldenkrais. The etymology of the name of the creator of one of the best-known methods of psychomotoric and somatic development in the world (next to Alexander’s method) author of the biography of M. Feldenkrais derives from the connotations with Old German from „crop circles” or „battle cries” speculating that the Feldenkrais might have participated in the struggles for independence in Poland where they lived for several centuries (the author probably referred to the Uprising of 1764).
These etymologies are not surprising given that the Feldenkrais method liked the majority of seekers and free-spirits, including American hippies in the 1960s, and the fact that Moshe Feldenkrais had a black belt judo and brought this martial art from Japan to France in the 1930s.
It is much more likely, however, that the name was given by the Austrian partition authorities after the partitions of 1793, 1795.
The name probably referred to the occupation or place of residence, and it was probably given in German. Earlier Jews did not use names because they did not have such a habit or need.
They lived in quite strong tied societies in which everyone knew each other, and for the sake of distinction the father’s name or nickname was added. The nickname was most often associated with life in the community and broadcasted rather early during childhood, so it is unlikely that an exception would be made in the case of the Feldenkrais.
I would therefore derive the name Feldenkrais from the expression ‚Felden kreuz’, a roadside cross. This would mean that the Feldenkrais lived in rural areas, perhaps on the outskirts of a large city, such as Sandomierz, and probably there occupation was agriculture or gardening. Moshe Feldenkrais from childhood showed strong ties with nature, sensitivity to the phenomena of nature, bond with the earth. This sensitivity was perfectly reflected in essays, exercises written in Hebrew, which Moshe studied with a private teacher.
The ancestors of Moshe Feldenkrais moved eastwards to the area of Volyn, probably right after the second or third partition of Poland at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. It could have happened for several reasons.
„Historians describing the city of Sandomierz in the 17th century convince us that Sandomierz is actually a city bathed in gardens. Feliks Kiryk states in the „Sandomierz Monograph” that from the preserved city books, as well as other source materials concerning trade in arable lands and gardens, it is known that almost every burgher of Sandomierz cultivated the role and gardens, had orchards and vineyards and hop-garden plants, and they were breeding domestic animals and birds (…) Then came the „Little Ice Age”, which means that there was a significant cooling of the climate that lasted until the mid-nineteenth century. In the meantime, Poland lost its independence for 123 years, it was divided between three powers. In each of the partitions, there was a different legal system, different rules of education and various economic regulations (various degrees of economic freedom). As a result, the fall of gardening took place. Sandomierz and the surrounding towns are in decline. “Poverty is creeping into the lives of the people who live here. ”
In turn, in Tsarist Russia, experienced farmers were sought during this time. „After the partitions, the Jewish settlement projects Russian administration took over the role. In the first half of the 19th century, only a small number of colonies were created, although the interest turned out to be significant. In 1859, in western governorates (after 1918, these areas were in part incorporated into Poland) – according to data from Leon Babicki – about 33 thousand Jewish farmers, but their number gradually decreased, while the Russian authorities gave up further colonization. A large part of farms, especially those in settlements inhabited almost exclusively by Jews, survived until the Polish state in 1918. ”
After arriving in Sławuta, the great-grandfather Moshe Feldenkrais probably presented documents in German to the tsarist authorities. We can imagine that one official who knows the Latin alphabet so so well, and perhaps some German language reads the name of new arrived loudly and the second wrote it in Cyrillic. Documents were handwritten in accordance with the principles of calligraphy. The ending „e u z”, it was easy to confuse with „a i s” in addition, the the voice “ i ” in Cyrillic reflects the same graphic sign as in Latin, the recording of the sound of „u”. Probably Feldenkrais who did not know the Cyrrilic could not make a difference, especially since in all probability the last name was a relatively new thing for them and they did not give too much of importance to it at the beginning. Perhaps in subsequent years the Feldenkrais tried to return to the sound of his name and change its record in the course of school education of children, when Russian teachers were often mistaken for the joy of schoolchildren’s classmates. Hence probably the appearing spelling Feldenkrayz, perhaps referring to the sound of „u” written in Cyrillic alphabet as a sign „y”.
My theory on the origin of the surname Moshe Feldenkrais confirms the strong connections and interactions between the Christian and traditional Jewish culture in Poland during 17th and 18th century and the strong sources and ties of Moshe Feldenkrais related to nature, botanics, earth, physics and … hard work.