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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. 

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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

It is a GRAVE Matter…Really

6 Jan

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My parents and grandparents are all together.

Over the years I have avoided one important part of my estate planning.  Buying a gravesite for my husband and for me.

I know this is important. But the thought of buying a grave made me sad.  I do not know why. My parents planned ahead. They purchased their graves as part of a family plot in New Jersey. In this same shared area rest all four of my grandparents, my parents and my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.  When I was a child, no one was buried there. Unfortunately, now all but one of the assigned graves are now filled. 

At the time the graves were purchased, only my two uncles’ names were placed on the contract, as the cemetery would not allow  three names to be on it.  This left my father out. It was not a big deal until my mom died, and we found out that we had no authority to open her grave.  Same thing with my dad.  Luckily we are a close family and my cousins immediately did all that needed to be done. In fact my one cousin went out of his way to help all the cousins as he not only arranged for us to purchase perpetual care for the graves, he has also kept close watch on the care.  When we suffered the loss of our parents and his mother within a year, it was this cousin who made sure the that all three stones were placed properly. We are so thankful for his concern. As we suffered multiple losses that year.

Every year when I go back east, my sister and I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Besides visiting all of our relatives, we take a short stroll to the resting place of my cousin’s other grandparents and relatives.  They are all so close together.  Remembering to bring the correct number of stones, is the hardest part.

Across from our parents, my sister and brother have a resting spot that includes their spouses. Unfortunately one grave is already occupied.   In fact it was this death about five years ago that started my quest and my inquiries about cemeteries.  But it has not been easy for me.

It was convenient for my siblings to buy for all of them as they  live in New Jersey.  But for me it is different.  My husband is from Missouri, and we live in Kansas. We have no family here.  Our daughter lives out of the country. And though our son lives near us now, who knows where he will end up.  So we have been indecisive about what to do.

Where should we eventually be buried?  OY! The best was to ignore this nagging and difficult choice.

This fall one of my close friends, a walking buddy, spent an entire walk telling me about the arrangements she and her husband recently made for their final home.  She also wanted to be sure her children would have no worries. The decision is made and paid for in advance.  It made me start thinking about our grave matter once again.

To be honest my husband does not care where we end up.  “When we are dead we are dead,” he says. “It won’t matter to us at all.”   But I think it will matter to our children if they do not have to worry about this decision in the midst of emotional turmoil.  It is hard enough when a parent dies without having to make this decision as well.  I knew my obsession had to be dealt with when I found myself reading the cemetery plot ads in the Jewish Forward.  That was a bit too much even for me.

As I am interested in genealogy, it was important to me that  our descendants  to be able to find us. I have seen the joy of discovery as people find the graves of their grandparents, great grandparents and even further back. It is so wonderful to have these in one place. So even though we belong to two synagogues, and we could buy plots in their cemeteries,  I do not want to be alone, away from everyone. It might be crazy, but that is how I feel.

The issue came to a head this past November, when my husband’s stepmother died.  She always planned to be buried on one side of my husband’s dad.  He and his first wife, my husband’s mother, are already buried there, as well as my husband’s grandparents. But things did not go as plannned.  Even though there are four empty graves in the plot, my father in law had never designated her to be buried there.  And with my father in law and his brother both deceased, the four plots are owned by the five adults in the next generation.  Since we are out of contact with my husband’s cousins, we were not allowed to bury her in this grave. It made for a tense few days. But the cemetery’s executive director would not  allow it.  (We assume the cemetery must have had lawsuits in the past over similar issues! )

No matter,  she had to be buried in a different cemertary.   But at least it was with her family. A cousin of hers who had purchased multiple plots donated one to her.   I was glad she was not alone.

This situation, the days of trying to figure out what would happen, increased my determination that our children should not have to deal with the issue of a grave site.  I was so upset. I do not want my children worrying about where to bury me. I want it settled.

But now I had a plan.  It is stupid for us to go to New Jersey especially since there are four perfectly good plots in St. Louis.   I am on a mission.  I am working with the cemetery to track down my husband’s first cousins.  It seems we are all joint owners of these four graves. I want two of these plots. It is stupid for them to stay empty when they can be used.

Even the woman I am working with at the cemetery agrees it is foolish to leave them unused.  But she says it happens often. Families drift apart and move away.  The original owner is long dead.  And the ownership continues to pass on to the next generation involving more and more descendants. And the cemetery is stuck, unable to let anyone use the graves.

Well one thing I have learned through my interest in genealogy, and my great contacts on the “Tracing the Tribe Facebook” group, research.  The person at the cemetery told me she could not find my husband’s cousins.  I took that as a challenge.  Within 90 minutes I had their names, their spouses’ names and the names of their children.  I have sent that information on to the cemetery’s office for them to be contacted.  (My research did remind me that my father in law and his brother died just over a month apart.  Even though they had not spoken to each other in perhaps 25 years, they had this connection: One died two weeks before 9/11 and one three weeks after. )

I have another back up plan as well.  My sister in law in St. Louis also has a group plot with her brothers and parents. When I unloaded my stress over finding a grave, she told me that they had some extra plots.  “You probably could buy two plots from us, if that would make me feel better and calm you down,” she laughed as she made this suggestion.  But my loving niece understands.  She promised me that she would come to visit ” her crazy aunt” in St. Louis.

My new year’s resolution for 2017:  I am focusing on resolving this grave matter.   I hope to find my husband’s cousins and come to an agreement about the graves.  Or purchase two plots from my sister in law’s family.  It is my resolution to buy two graves…   NOT that I want to use them anytime soon.
Update: we have two graves with my sister in law and her family in the St Louis area. I am at peace. My children will have an easier time with this knowledge. 

The Rosh Hashannah Card Has A Story

1 Oct

szenk-1936-shana-tova

In 1936 my Grandma Thelma’s siblings sent her a Rosh Hashannah card from Poland. On the front is a photo of her siblings. Seated are her brother Isaac and his wife, Bronia. Standing are her youngest siblings David and Esther. Soon after this photo was taken the world really began to change.

This photo looks so peaceful and calm. But so much was going on behind the scenes. Plans were already being made. Getting out of Poland was their main goal.

My Grandmother worked diligently to get her family out of Europe. She and my grandfather owned a bakery and had two young children. Grandma had taken her children to Europe in 1931 and since her return had been searching for ways to rescue her family and my grandfather’s family. It was very difficult.

Eventually, she got documentation to bring my great grandfather Abraham (her mother had died young) and her younger sister, Esther, to the United States. Esther was older than 21, but she was very tiny. So they made her younger. And thus she was able to come with her father.

The age difference was a bone of contention for years. My Tante always stating her ‘fake’ age, my grandmother always correcting her. It was made worse by the fact that my Grandmother had traveled by herself to the USA in 1922, when she was only 16. To get the papers she needed, she made herself two years older! The war over their ages went on for years.

It was great until Tante wanted to retire. Truly she was 65, but legally she was 62. I remember this as my Grandmother and Tante would argue about this as well.   Like sisters, with love, they found many things to argue about.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

In any case two were saved. I have my Great Grandfather’s passport and visa. In the passport it states that he has to leave Poland within a certain time or the visa is invalid. Luckily my grandparents also sent money. Saving family was utmost in my grandparents’ mind.

But my Grandmother was unable to rescue her brothers and bring them to the USA.   They decided that they had to leave Poland: Uncle Isaac and his wife, Bronia, along with David and Bronia’s sister, Rosa. The Rabbi said that David and Rosa must marry before they left Poland. So a quick wedding was held.

They escaped Poland to Russia. Not as great, but they were tailors…or they became tailors. And so, my grandmother would say, they were employed to make army uniforms for the Russian army.

Their lives were not easy. They suffered. But they survived. Many were not as fortunate.

After the war they wanted to leave Europe. They were in Italy and the Facists were on the rise. They were afraid. They wrote to their sisters in the United States, and to Bronia and Rosa’s sisters in Australia. They decided whoever sent documents first , they would go to that country. They just wanted out of Europe as quickly as possible.

Once again they were among the fortunate ones with sisters on two continents working to save their siblings. The sisters in Australia got documents first. My great aunts and uncles moved to Australia. There my cousin was born. There my Uncle David passed away when in was in his 30s. He is buried in Melbourne.

When my cousin was a child, they decided to move to Israel. My Great Uncle and his wife; his sister in-law, and niece. My cousin and her family still live in Israel. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles have all passed away. But when I look at this Rosh Hashannah card, I see hope. I wish everyone a blessed, happy, healthy and sweet new year.

 

 

 

To read more about the family:

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

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/11/03/who-are-you-these-photos-call-out-to-me/

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

The Mysterious Kalsbad Photos: Who Are They?

6 Jun

June 26, 1931. My Grandmother was in Europe with my Mother and my Uncle. She left them at the farm owned by my great grandparents in Poland while she went to Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovia to take the waters and revive her health.

The doctors in the United States told her that she was going to die. She had been pregnant again in the USA. But doctors terminated the pregnancy through a very illegal abortion in an effort to save her life. But still she was sick. So she decided she would not burden my Grandfather with two young children, 5 and 2. She would take them to Europe to live with his parents and she would die there. He, then, would be free to continue his life.

I once asked my Grandfather, why he let her go. “She was a sick woman,” he told me. “I had to let her do what she thought was best.”

“Would you have left Mom and Uncle Stanley in Europe?” I asked. This was a very important question. His entire family perished. If he had left them, I would not be here.

He looked me in the eye, and said, “As soon as she died I was going to get on a boat and return with my children. I would never leave them there. “

His words made me feel a bit better. But if Grandma had died the world my Mom and Uncle lived in would have been very different. But at least I know my grandfather would not have abandoned them in Poland.

Luckily Grandma did get well. She stayed in Europe for six to eight months and then returned to the USA with my Mom and Uncle. She saw the rise of Hitler coming and now had a new purpose: get the family out. She could not save as many as she wanted. But she tried.

Grandma Thelam, Carlsbad

Grandma is sitting in the front. The date and place were added by my Mom. I think the two women are related. This is the photo we knew about.

We have several items from that trip to Europe. We have a ceramic vase that stays in her breakfront/curio cabinet in our Catskills’ home. We have stories about the trip.  We have a few photos. We knew of one. Grandma is with two other women. We have no ideal who they are. But I think they are related to her, one women sort of looks like her sister-in-law. We are not sure. There is no identifications on the back.

But I recently found another.

FullSizeRender (10)

Grandma is in back row on the left wearing a white hat.

It is a group photo. In the very back row, near the center is a woman in a white hat, that is my grandmother. She is 26 years old.

I do not know the other people. Are they family members who perished? Or are they just other people who are in Karlsbad? Sometimes I imagine that they are just other people at the resort who were pulled together for a group photo that the photographer would then sell to tourists.   Other times I imagine that people in the photo look like family, especially the man in the front on the left. But I honestly do not know.

This photo is different from the others we have from that trip. There is writing in Yiddish and English. The English is easy, her name and the address where she stayed in Karlsbad. Or is it a place she visited?

The Yiddish is more exciting to me. It is the only letter I have seen that she wrote to my Grandfather. (Thank you members of the Tracing the Tribe Facebook Group for translations!)

It says: “As a souvenir from your faithful wife, who hopes, to meet you again in good health.” Another translated it as “A souvenir from your devoted wife, who hopes to return to you in good health.”

Either makes sense. She was sick. She was away from my grandfather. She wanted to be reunited with her family and be healthy.

And that all happened. She returned to the US and lived an additional 50 years. And 80 years later, I keep finding treasures in her photo album!

 

 

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

Holding My Grandparent’s Naturalization Papers Overwhelms Me

23 May

 

imageI have a small leather case that is inscribed with the words Certificate of Citizenship.  Enclosed are my grandparents naturalization papers that change them from immigrants to citizens.

I hold the papers in my hands and I wonder what my grandparents were thinking. Here are the legal documents that made them naturalized citizens of the United States of America. They were no longer Polish citizens. They were free of the past, or were they?

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One paper is 84 years old.   My Grandmother became an American in 1932. She was 27 years old. I know she had just returned from a trip to Europe to regain her health and see her family and my grandfather’s family. She took her two small children, my mother and my uncle, with her for six months in Poland. And then she came home, a changed woman with a mission. Get as many family members out of Europe as possible.   Grandma was smart. She saw the coming tide of Hitler and his anti-Semitism. What would she think now with the new rise of hatred and xenophobia throughout the world?

The seal encompasses her photo. Her certificate has a small burn in it. The paper was folded when it happened. I can see my grandfather smoking a cigarette with an ash hanging off as it falls on the papers. I know my grandmother must have been furious. It looks like that type of burn to me. I am glad that my children have never seen a cigarette burn. When my father and grandfather smoked, papers often got singed.   But by the time my children were born, there were no more smokers in my family.

There on her paper is a space for Race. It says Hebrew. I wonder if she worried about that word on her papers? They were not yet putting yellow stars on Jews when she was in Europe. Even though she was worried, perhaps, being here made her feel safe enough. The good news is that 11 years later, when my grandfather became a citizen, there was no longer a space for Race. This item was removed from the naturalization papers. It makes me happy to see this change.

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I wonder why Grandpa waited so long? He came to the USA in 1920. Did he originally think he would go back one day? Maybe. But the war probably changed his mind. He became a citizen in the midst of World War II — the war that destroyed his family. The war that murdered his parents and his siblings, his nieces and his nephews, his aunts and uncles, his cousins and his friends. Almost all perished. He did not yet officially know this in 1943. But perhaps he knew, since all letters stopped coming and there was no more contact with his family. It was not till after the war that he knew they had all died.

On this paper I see my grandparents’ signatures. I usually did not see it. To me Grandma only signed all letters Love, Grandma Thelma. Grandpa never wrote letters. In his later years, he forgot how to write his name in English. He only remembered how to write it in Hebrew. But here I see his signature. It gives me a thrill to see these names on these certificates.

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On the back of Grandpa’s certificate of naturalization is an additional note. It was when he became an official citizen that he legally changed his name from Nisson to Nathan. He put away his Yiddish/Hebrew name and moved to an English name. This is the name I gave my son. Nissan, Nathan. He was born 11 months after Grandpa died. It seemed right that he should have his name.

By the time Grandpa became a citizen they had moved to the home they lived in for over 30 years. This was the location of their bakery in West New York, New Jersey. A home and a bakery where I spent many hours and enjoyed so much love. The same address where I spent the first three years of my life. Where my parents spent the first six years of their married life.

When I hold my grandparents’ citizenship papers I am overwhelmed. Because they moved here and left their homes when they were so young, 18 and 16, I am alive. Because they made a conscious choice my children have freedom. Because they were able to immigrate to the United States, we live in freedom.

I hope the United States will continue to be a beacon of light to immigrants throughout the world, as it was for my grandparents.

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/i-believe-mystically-and-magically-great-grandma-chava-watches-over-me/

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/grandma-thelma-knows-what-she-knows/

 

 

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