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The US Passport: A Matter of Life

4 Dec

I recently saw the documentary, “Big Sonia,” about a local Kansas City area woman who survived the Holocaust and three concentration camps from ages 13 to 19; how she and her husband started their own tailor shop; how the tailor shop became an important part of her life; and how the Holocaust impacted her life, her family and those around her.  Although I do not know Sonia, I do know her sister-in-law, who belongs to my congregation.

Both Sonia and Ann are contemporaries of my Mom.  And when I hear of their Holocaust survival story, I cannot help but think, “there for the grace of G-d, could have been my Mom.” But she would have just been 10 when the horrors really began, and she might not have survived.  It stabs at my heart.  Here is why:

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When I look at the smiling children in the 1931 passport, I feel fear in my heart.  They are my Mom and my Uncle.  My grandmother is getting ready to take them to Poland.

In 1931, most Jews in Poland and Europe were not yet concerned about escaping. Although Hitler’s rise to power was advancing, he did not become chancellor of Germany until January 1933.  Thus, I guess in some ways, my Grandmother was not afraid to take her two small children, my Uncle, who was 4 ½, and my Mom, who was 2 1/2, to Europe to stay with family while she tried to regain her health.

Boat to Europe 1931

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;  behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

I always knew this had occurred. I have seen the photo taken of my Mom and Uncle on the ship to Europe. I knew that my grandmother almost died aboard the ship on the way to Europe. I have seen several photos of my grandmother in Kalsbadt and with family members during that trip.

Both their visa and Passport were issued on May 18, 1931.  I think their visa was good until May 18, 1932.  This part of the Visa is in German. Since my Grandfather’s family lived in the area of Galicia which was then Austria, it makes sense. They arrived in Europe on May 26, 1931.

I heard the stories of my Mom and Uncle coming back from Europe only speaking Yiddish. Their English left them while they spent six months with their paternal grandparents.  This would not happen again, as these grandparents perished in the Shoah.

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This registers my uncle and mom as living in Boleslawiec.

But now that I have the Passport, and have had part of it translated,  I know that this story is not totally true.  They spent at least two and half months in Boleslawiec, Poland,  from August 14 to October 3, 1931.  This is where my Grandmother was born.  They spent at least that time staying with their maternal grandfather and his children. That was a surprise.

So at some point, my Grandmother traveled across Europe with two small children, going from Mielic, Galicia, Austria, to Boleslawiec, Poland.  WOW.  I wonder how the trains were then.  I am sure she went with her American dollars and was able to travel easily.  But the idea of them on a train in Austria and Poland sends shivers through my body.  I can so easily image the other members of my family who traveled on much less kind trains a number of years later to their deaths in the concentration camps.

I also knew it was this trip and her visits to the mineral waters of Kalsbadt that saved and cured my grandmother.  Her experiences in Europe over these months also made her resolute to get as many family members out of Europe that she could.  Unfortunately, she was only successful in rescuing her father and sister.  Her in laws refused to leave, and they perished.

However, until I held the Passport that jointly named my Uncle and Mom as USA citizens and saw the visas, I somehow did not quite fathom the enormous consequences.   This passport was only valid for two years. What if they had been stuck in Europe? I had asked my grandfather when I was younger what he would have done if Grandma died in Europe.  He assured me that he was not going to leave his children in Europe.  He let her go because she was ill, but his children would return to the USA.

That always made me feel better, as the family they stayed with, my grandfather’s family, all perished.  I always believed that Grandma took the children to her in-laws and traveled by herself.  But that is not true.  She also took them to see her father and siblings as well. And miraculously my Grandmother’s two brothers and their wives survived even though Grandma could not get them out of Poland.

The Passport was originally made out only for my Uncle in May 1931.   I found that strange.  Was my Grandmother going to leave my 2-year-old mother with my grandfather in the States, while she traveled with my Uncle?  What changed her mind? I will never know that story. I found the Passport long after my grandmother had passed away.

I do know that they came home.  They arrived back in the USA on October 13, 1931. I can see the US Immigration stamp. The trip itself took a week or so crossing the Atlantic.  They grew up in New Jersey.  They married. They had children and grandchildren. Their memories of Europe faded quickly.  Perhaps my Uncle remembered more, but for my Mom it was just stories she heard.

My Mom did not go through the horrors and Hell that Big Sonia experienced.   Her American Passport and visa and ticket to return saved her and my uncle.  In 1936 Mom went with my Grandmother to Ellis Island to gather my great grandfather and Tante (great aunt).  My Grandmother was successful in saving them.

Not everyone had a life saving Passport. I often think of those who perished.   I still remember the day I found out about the Holocaust.  I cannot forget.

With the vitriol and anti-Semitic language and acts of bullying throughout the country, I think it is important that no one forgets.  Everyone should go and see “Big Sonia” and learn about real courage, and the horrible consequences of baseless hatred and bigotry.

Thank you to members of the Facebook Groups: Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland for the translations.

http://www.bigsonia.com

https://www.facebook.com/bigsoniamovie/?fref=mentions

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

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Too Many Esthers!

16 Nov

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But  it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a nick name to  designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare.. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.

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My Grandma ‘Curly’ Esther with her three curly haired children.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me,  that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name,  my daughter’s English name was different.. My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle.. So no duplicate names there either.

However, I now understand my Grandmother’s issue.  My husband and I each have a nephew named Josh.  Well they are both our nephews, but from different sides.   Whenever we talk about them, we add a qualifier, usually their last name or the name of their father.

I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganah.. I know my Grandma would disapprove.

A Touch of Jewish Philanthropy In Lincoln, Massachusetts 

30 Oct

The entrance to the museum. The house is on the hill.

I always enjoy going to Boston, as I can immerse myself in our nation’s history. And I love history.  I also enjoy going because I get to visit with my college roommate. She is my official Boston tour guide.  With this visit she decided it was time to get out of Boston and see some of the surrounding sites. It was a beautiful fall day. I am always ready for a new Museum.

Her choice was the de Cordova art museum and sculpture garden in Lincoln. With my interest in Jewish genealogy, I was very familiar with the name De Cordova or Cordova as a Sephardic Jewish name.  But searching for the name of Julian De Cordova online, there was no mention of any Jewish roots.   Just that he was a the son of a Jamaican merchant with Spanish roots.  So to me it was obvious that this was a family which left Spain due to the expulsion of the Jews and ended up in Jamaica.  I love the white wash of history.

In any case I was excited to see this museum, walk through the sculpture garden and visit with my friend.  We decided to go inside first and see the exhibits.  The main topic was screens and  the different interpretations of a screen:  television screens, screens that separate rooms,  screens that keep people out. It was interesting.   But as we wandered the through the museum, we passed a little display on a wall that discussed the history of Julian de Cordova.

Part of the house.

Julian was the son of a Jewish family of merchants in Jamaica who was able on his own merit to become a successful business man in Lincoln,   He and his wife, who was from the local Dana family,  I assume not Jewish,  traveled the world and purchased art wherever they went.  He loved going to Spain because of his family’s Spanish roots. While there,  He also fell in love with castles and so remodeled his summer home in Lincoln to look like a castle.

He also set up that when he died, this summer home, its land and his art would be donated to the city of Lincoln as a museum.  When he died in 1945, the de Cordova Museum was established.

One of my favorite pieces.

So although most do not know that this lovely estate and museum was once the abode of a Jamaican, Sephardic Jewish man, to me it added a bit of joy as I walked the grounds, enjoyed the art and the lovely setting.  It made me appreciate how immigrant Jewish families have added to our country and the arts.

My friend and I spent two hours walking through the museum,  most of our time was spent walking around the sculptures, along the paths that led to the pond and lovely gardens.   Afterwards we spent time in Concord and the Minute Man National Park.  But this little jewel of a museum is well worth the visit.

The Missing Link in My Family History or My Biggest Genealogy Block

25 Oct

 

Harry Rosenberg

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

Help!

I know basically nothing about one set of my paternal great grandparents. My grandfather, Harry Rosenberg… Hersh Zvi ben Avraham, was the son of Abraham and Sarah Rosenberg. His father, Abraham, abandoned the family when my grandfather was about 13 or 14. Grandpa was borned in 1888 or 1889. So in 1901 or 1902, his father left and ended up in the Seattle, Washington, area. He came back to the east coast around September 1941, because he showed up at my Dad’s bar mitzvah. I know that he had a second wife, or a woman that he lived with on the West Coast. He supposedly became quite wealthy. Who knows?

Grandpa was born in New York, the oldest of six children: Harry, “Hady” (Harriet), Jacob, Muriel and two maiden sister.  (I am thinking one of my great grandparent’s parents had an H sound in their name, since both my grandfather and his oldest sister were Harry and Harriet.)

After Grandpa traveled to the west coast to find his father, he returned to New York to help support his sibling. He was a tailor. And through his work, all five of his siblings went to college Grandpa never did.   He found out much later that his mother had lied to him for many years.   She had been getting money from her husband, but never told my grandfather, and so kept him working for the family. (See blog post below: “The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry )

Grandpa married my grandmother, Esther Goldman, on February 26, 1922. He died February 29, 1984.

I know that Jacob got married and had a son named, Betram, and a daughter, Delilah. Delilah was around the same age as my Aunt, so born around 1931. I know because my Aunt would go to their house for piano lessons once a week. They lived in New York City at least until the 1940s. But supposedly he was an important lawyer and moved to England at some point and never came back to the USA.

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Standing: Great Uncle Lenny, Great Aunt Hady, Grandpa Harry, Grandma Esther. Seating are my great grandmother and great aunt from my Grandma’s side.

Haddie married Lenny.   I knew them when I was a child. They lived to the end of their lives in Sullivan County, New York, in the Monticello area. (See blog post below: The Littlest Gambler: Learning about Horse Races in The Catskills.)

The two maiden sisters, and Muriel, I never knew. But Muriel also married and had sons. But that is all I know. The only story I know is that my grandmother asked them if they had any names they wanted when my aunt and uncle were born. Hence my Uncle’s middle name was Prime, and my Aunt’s middle name was Gwendolyn.   Grandma did not offer when my Dad was born.

I know my great grandfather’s original last name was “Grau.” He was one of three to five brothers who came to the USA at different times. We believe they all took different names.

I know nothing else. I do not even know my great grandmother’s maiden name. I don’t know when she was born or when she died. I do not know when my great grandparents’ married. But I know it had to be on or before 1888. I do not know when they moved to the USA.  We have no known photos of my great grandparents.

I am hoping one of the wonderful researchers from Tracing the Tribe can help me.

I would appreciate it. My Grandpa Harry’s family is the missing link in my research.

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/the-sad-scandal-that-forever-scarred-my-grandpa-harry/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/the-littlest-gambler-learning-about-horse-races-in-the-catskills/

I Kept Waiting For A Connection 

13 Apr

Through Tracing The Tribe, I became friendly with another member, Amy Cohen. We would read each other’s blogs and comment. We became Facebook friends. Another friend of mine did research that overlapped her research. There were just many connections. 

As she continued on her path, I kept waiting for our lives to intersect.  I just knew we had to be related somewhere.  Finally her research brought her to the Midwest.  Then I knew for certain our genealogies would intersect.  In the plain states, the Jewish population is intermingled.  And my husband’s family has tentacles that cover several states. 

Finally just before Passover the first tentacle reached out. Her distant relative was married to one of my best friend’s sister. But that was not enough.  I kept waiting and reading, and on Seder day it happened.  Another of her distant cousins was my husband’s uncle (by marraige).  More than that, the cousin who married my friend’s sister was related to our uncle. 

Now all sorts of connections are occurring as different Midwest family and friends read the blogs.  Click click click, the pieces fall into place. 

But to be honest, I still think there must be another connection that is more direct.  I keep waiting. 

We are one people. 

What Happened To Karola?

27 Feb

I am still finding clues about my grandmother’s family in the old photo album we found hidden in the attic. Many of the photos might remain mysteries. As they have no caption or notations. But as I slowly go through them, I sometimes find a photo with a message on the back.

In February,  I was showing the album to a visiting cousin, when I flipped over the photo of a young woman. I was surprised to see it had a note on the back in Polish. I could understand a bit. It was to her cousin Thelma (my grandma). It had a date, June 6, 1946. And it had a place, Kielce.  I was glad that I had finally found a photo from after the war. I thought that finally I had found someone who survived. I had thought the book was hidden because it was filled with those who perished.

The back of the photo.

Karola in June 1946.

I posted the photo on the “Tracing the Tribe,” Facebook group to get a translation of the back. It was dedicated to my grandmother. “To my sincere/honest and devoted cousin Thelma from Karola. I knew they were related because Karola looks so much like my grandmother. I assume they are first cousins.

My Grandma Thelma summer 1942.

The rest of the inscription reads, “Kielce, June 6, 1946. “.  And that opened up a new issue. Someone wrote, “Do you realize that this is dated from Kielce less than ONE MONTH before the pogrom in which 42 Jews — pretty much all Holocaust survivors — were massacred in the local community center? Did your relative survive that horrible event.”

I Don’t know if she survived!

I started investigating Kielce.  On July 4, 1946, there was a pogrom against the approximately 200 Jewish survivors of the camps who had moved back to Kielce. They were a tiny percentage of what once was a thriving Jewish community.

Of those 200, 42 were killed and 40 were injured.  This event started when a young boy told his father he was late because Jews locked him in a basement. It was a lie. But started a blood libel event. Polish police and soldiers participated. On July 14 nine Poles were executed for their role in this horrible massacre. Because of this event,  Polish Jews who survived knew they had to leave Poland. It would never be a safe haven. And a mass exodus began.

But what about my cousin?  I tried finding her name on any lists. But I do not know her surname.  I do not remember ever meeting her in the US, although I met most of my grandparents’ relatives. There were so few.  I had not met her in Israel when I took my grandma there in 1976.  I met many relatives then. (See previous blog: Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Holocaust Memories).  I sent the photo to a cousin in Israel. Although we are just a month apart in age, she is a generation above me. My mothers first cousin. And her parents survived the war by fleeing to a Russia. She knew the family who survived and moved to Israel. She also has a picture of Karola, but knows nothing about her.  

So I am beginning to think she perished. Which breaks my heart. Did she send the photos to relatives in an effort to get out of Europe?  What was happening? Was she alone?  I need answers. 

I could not let my search end there. I have contacted a distant cousin who I met through Tracing the Tribe. He is a much more experienced researcher than I. I hope he will be able to bring me closure about cousin Karola.

In the meantime I also continue to search for her. But I also continue to learn about the political and social anti-Semitism that led to this horrendous event and its aftermath.

UPDATE:  Karola lived: From another cousin who read the blog I found out this information:  “Karola lived in Paris with her husband and beautiful daughter. They visited us for a few days when I was a teen. My mother kept in touch for many years, the daughter also came to NYC and stayed and then they seemed to lose contact.” Wrote my cousin. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kielce_pogrom

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

Defacing a Cemetery and Bomb Threats Make Me Angry

20 Feb

I was not sad today when I found out more Jewish Community Centers had received bomb threats that forced evacuations.  I was not sad today when I found out Chessed Shel Emeth Cemetery was vandalized and over 100 stones were toppled.  I was not sad.

I was ANGRY! I am still angry. I am frustrated that people believe hatred wins. It does not win.

This wave of anti-Semitism has touched me on several occasions. My sister and nephew were exercising at the Tenafly, NJ, JCC when it had to be evacuated in bitter cold weather. Children and elderly had to walk or be taken to a safe place.

The Jewish Community Center in Kansas has been on high security for over two years now since a horrible instance of anti-Semitic violence led to three deaths. And twice bomb threats have been received this year. I am used to seeing armed guards at the JCC and at our synagogues.

But today was the final straw. Today the cemetery where my husband’s parents and grandparents, as well as his great aunt and uncle,  are buried was vandalized. Chessed shel Emeth in University City, Missouri, in St Louis.  I am so angry that someone thinks toppling graves is acceptable. I think my anger is intensified because so many of my family have no graves. Their remains are included in the ashes of the concentration camps and destroyed Jewish communities in Europe.

I think I am angry because by destroying graves, they– the haters– try to wipe out out memory. I am always searching in my family’s genealogy, always wondering about who came before and how are we related. So I say to the haters, “It will not happen. We carry each person’s name and memory as a blessing. ”

I contacted the cemetery as soon as I found out to discover the status of our family graves. I was surprised at how quickly I had a response. I was contacted within an hour that Our stones were not toppled.

I want to thank all those who reached out to us. I am glad that the community is coming together to help repair the damage.  Donations can be made to help pay for the damage,. (See link below.)

And I say to those making threats and trying to destroy cemeteries, You will be found. You will be punished. This is not Europe of 1939. This is the United States of America. And you are in the wrong. We stand united.

I am angry, but I believe in goodness.  And I will continue to work with and focus on those who want a better world. I think we need to spread kindness, but we also need to find those who are perpetuating these acts and hold them responsible for their actions. It is just wrong.
If you want to help the cemetery please go to this site: https://www.chesedshelemeth.org/how-to-donate.html

Vandals target historic Jewish cemetery in University City