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My Obsession With Grandma’s Album Leads to the Shoah

17 Jun

My Tante Esther played an important role in my life.  My grandmother’s younger sister, Tante Esther came to the USA in 1936 along with my great grandfather.  My grandmother was able to bring them here and away from Poland.

Tante Esther and her husband, Uncle Leo, lived close to us in North Bergen, New Jersey.  Uncle Leo also came from Europe, from Germany, and worked for my grandparents at their bakery in West New York, New Jersey.  He was not family then, just someone who needed a job.  When my Tante came over, she married my Uncle.  Grandma had already told Uncle Leo not to get serious about any one, as she had a sister for him.

Uncle Leo worked with my grandfather as long as the bakery was in existence.  It was Uncle Leo who dropped off a box of bakery goods every Sunday morning on his way home from baking all night.  It was Uncle Leo who once brought my brother home from the bakery after my brother had mixed the sugar with the salt.  I still remember, my brother being handed off to my Dad with Uncle Leo’s terse words, “Here Take Him,” before he left to return to the bakery.  My Mom had to call my grandmother to find out what had happened.

We often saw Uncle Leo at our synagogue, Temple Beth El.  He always had candy in his pocket, so we always made sure to give him a hug and say hello.  We loved him for other reasons, but the candy was always special.

My grandmother came to the USA when she was 16 years old.  I have written about Grandma and her family many times.    As I have written about her photo album filled with unidentified photos.

Here are two more photos.   Luckily my cousin is still alive and can help identify her mother.  She is positive that her mother is the woman on the left in the photo of the two women and two boys.

But the other photo, my cousin says is not her mother.    I thought it was.  But after having the back translated by several different people on the groups Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland, I think my cousin is right.  This is not her mother!

Inscribed on the back is a note to Talci, or Talei, or Palci,  as a remembrance from Estera.  My grandmother used the name Tala in Europe.  I assume, Talei could be a nickname. But I would think that if the photo was her sister, the message would have mentioned that!!!  Thus, I am thinking this is a cousin about the same age and named for the same person as my Tante Esther!  Definitely not my Tante.  I put the picture here so you can see how difficult this becomes in identifying people.

As for the photo with the two women and the boys, I am stymied as to who the other woman and the boys could be.  I know my grandmother had many first cousins. I am assuming they are members of the family. Someone important to my grandmother for a photo to be sent from Poland.

My obsession with these photos  makes me know who I hope it is.  I hope and wish it is her cousin Tova Malcha and perhaps these are her  sons.  Tova and her family were murdered in the Shoah.  I have no idea how many children she had or her married name. There are 135 people with her maiden name murdered from the town she lived in Viroshov/Wieruszow Poland.  I know she died and her family died.  What I do know, I heard as a young woman when my grandmother met with Tova Malcha’s brother in 1976 in Israel.  (Read blog below.)

I have no identified photo of her.  But I am hoping that when this photo was sent to my grandmother, sometime after she moved to the USA, that the two women she loved the most, her sister and her first cousin, her best friend, were in this photo.  (See blog below.)

But I know it could be someone else.  Another cousin perhaps?  I have written about others.  All I know is that when I search through this album, many times I am caught up in the Shoah.  I end up at the Yad VeShem database searching for names that match these photos.   Then I cannot look at the album again for months.

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

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/20/viroshov-wieruszow-a-jewish-community-destroyed/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/11/the-yad-vashem-shoah-database-each-name-becomes-a-memory/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

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

 

My Great Uncle Discovered In A Wonderful Photo

14 Jun

Once again, I browsed through my grandmother’s mystery photo album trying to identify more of the many photos from Europe.  This time I had success.

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I noticed a familiar face among a photo of six men playing cards and smoking.  All were young, well dressed, and looked posed to me.  But seated on the left side, I noticed someone who looked like my great uncle Isaac.  When I studied in Israel during 1974-75, I spent much time at my great uncle and great aunts’ home in Kiryat Haim, near Haifa.  I also brought my grandmother to Israel in 1976, when she saw her brother in the first time in over 40 years.  (See blog below.)

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The back of the photo had a stamp from Boleslawiec, and I knew that was my grandmother’s home town.  So it would make sense that Uncle Isaac would be in a photo taken there.  And also, a short message was written in Yiddish, right over the spot where Uncle Issac was sitting on the front side of the photo.  I thought I could make out the name Izhak.

Thank you to Esther, another member of The Tracing the Tribe Facebook group.   She translated the back for me. “This is brother, Itzek.”  Itzek was what my grandmother called her brother.  I was right.  I correctly identified another photo.   Or at least one person in the photo!

I wish I knew the identities of the other young men. I am thinking they were friends, or perhaps cousins.  He had a brother, but I would assume, David would have been identified in the photo also.

By the time this photo was taken, my grandmother was living in the United States.  She left Poland in 1922, when she was 16, the oldest of the children.  I would assume this photo was taken sometime in late 1920s early 1930s, before the world changed.

Each time I identify another of these photos, I feel a moment of pure joy.  I have written a number of blogs about these photos.  Several of them are listed below.

 

PS. Uncle Issac is the one who made a jacket for my Mom,  which I wrote about here: https://zicharonot.com/2019/05/20/this-jacket-is-a-survivor/

 

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

https://zicharonot.com/2018/12/06/identifying-a-photo-is-hanukkah-miracle/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/15/boleslawiec-pottery-pieces-create-a-feeling-of-despondency/

https://zicharonot.com/2016/10/01/the-rosh-hashannah-card-has-a-story/

 

My Military Mystery (In honor of Memorial Day)

27 May

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Pine Camp, Jefferson County, NY, July 1924, presents me with a major mystery.  I have two photos that were taken there and are clearly marked:  Pine Camp, Jefferson C. N.Y. July 1924.  They are part of the many unknown photos in my Grandmother’s album that we found hidden in the attic of her home, 35 years after she passed away.  (See blog link below.)

The handwriting is not my grandmother’s handwriting.  But I think it was her cousin’s Katie’s handwriting, because in many of the photos Grandma and her first cousin are together.  Additionally my Grandmother lived with her Aunt’s Family from 1922 until 1925 when she married my grandfather.  Grandma and Katie became life-long friends, besides cousins..

I have to think that maybe they were visiting one of Katie’s brothers, she had three.  Or perhaps one of four brothers who Katie’s mother helped raise, and later Katie married into that family.  But I also have to assume that they knew someone who was there, and who sent them this photo.   I cannot imagine that they were allowed to visit them while they were on maneuvers.

Pine Camp was a military site.  The New York National Guard trained there in the summer time during the early 1900s.   Eventually, during the Second World War, Pine Camp was enlarged and became the training grounds for three divisions of General George S. Patton’s 4th Armored Division.  But that happened much latter.  It served as a prisoner of war camp and eventually was renamed Camp Drum in 1951.

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So who is the person they knew in this picture of six young men? And who is that commanding officer?  I have no idea.  But perhaps someone can help me solve my military mystery?

Great news! A distant cousin who I connected with several years ago, thanks to help from Tracing the Tribe members, said that one of the men is her great uncle who was Katie’s first husband!!! Thank you!!

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/

New York State Military Museum:  https://dmna.ny.gov/forts/fortsM_P/pineCamp.htm

My Grandmother’s Mysterious Black Notebook

13 May
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The black notebook.

I have a book.  It is small.  About eight inches by nine inches.  It has a black cover.  Inside are 33 lined pages, so total of 66 pages that can be written on.

It seems to be a diary.  Most of the pages, about 40, have entries that are dated in 1921.  So my book is almost 100 years old.  Two of the names I recognize.  My grandmother and her first cousin, Abraham, who perished in the Shoah.  The other names I am not sure about.  But these entries, even though they have different names, seem to be written by the same person.  My grandmother perhaps?  Or are they really two separate handwriting.  Now that I look at this page below, it seems as if two different people wrote. But many of the pages have the same writing and not changes like this one.

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Entries from March 1921 with my grandmother Tala Szenk and her cousin Abram Prentki’s names.

Some of the entries look like they could be poems.   Did they write these poems, or did they just copy them from some book?  It does show how my grandmother was educated in Poland.  Her father was a teacher. Grandma could read, write and speak in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish.  After she came to America, she went to night school to learn English.

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See Lipka, her relatives she stayed with when she arrived in America.

In the middle of the book are names and addresses in English.  Names of people living in New York and New Jersey.  Hidden, I think, in the middle of the book.  Her escape plan?   My grandmother came to the United States when she was 16 in 1922.  I see the last name of the aunt and uncle who allowed her to live with them in the United States.  They must have sponsored her as well.  The name is Lipka.

It is all written in Polish.  But I can understand the names, because I recognize them.  And the name of my grandmother and her cousin jump out at me.  Especially since I have written about this cousin and not knowing who he was at first.  And then here he is embedded with her in this book.

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Who wrote these pages?

After the journal entries, if that is what they are, comes some blank pages, and then six pages written in a different handwriting.  It looks like a poem.  But I am not sure.  I am not sure what any of it is.

The last four pages are in Yiddish. Those I have had translated.  We think it is a story, perhaps not true, perhaps yes.   About a girl who meets non-Jewish man and how it ends in sadness.  The beginning reminds of the story of Tveye and his daughter Chava.  But this story does not end happily.  Did she read a book and decided to write that story?  I don’t know. I don’t know if she is writing about someone she knew or making up a story.   Perhaps the other entries would give me information. Perhaps.

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Why did she save this receipt as well?

Inside the book is a receipt for registered mail sent on November 16, 1922.  Did she send something back to her father and her siblings after she arrived in America?  I wish I knew.

My grandmother passed away 38 years ago.  I wish I had seen this book when she was alive so I could ask her what all this is!  We found it long after she died and my parents died.  It was hidden in the bottom of a box in the attic of their Catskills home.  Not thrown away, but saved for me to one day find.

This book is a mystery to me.  I need someone who reads Polish and can translate this book for me.  I love a mystery, but even more, I love the solution to a mystery!

 

Two blogs about Abraham Prentki:

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

The Keeper of the Records

6 May

In my family, I have become the keeper of the records.  I believe it is because I actually do something with them.  I scan them in to the computer; I research these records; I write about them; and then I share the information with my family through my blogs.  I hope that my doing this will keep these memories alive for future generations.

So recently, when I was in New Jersey, I asked my sister where she had put our parents’ wedding album, as my sister wanted it when we cleaned out our parents’ home.  It was easily accessible, so I looked through it, searching for a particular photo.  I had seen it the album many times, so knew it was included.

The biggest problem with this album is that the photos are encased in plastic. That must have been the style as I have seen other albums from this era also with plastic.  So those photos are difficult to photograph or scan, as you see here.

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My parents listening to the reading of their ketubah.

I found what I was looking for: a photo with my parents’ ketubah, Jewish marriage license.  It was important for me because I have both their marriage license and the engagement agreement that was signed at the same time.

The engagement contract is in disrepair.  I hate even taking it out of its’ envelop, but I did for a photo.  It is signed by both of my grandfathers. It was kept in an envelop addressed to my Dad at my grandparents’ bakery.

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The ketubah is in much better shape.  Written in both English and Hebrew, it is pretty simple.  Not an artist drawing, but rather a form Ketubah filled in by the Rabbi.  The most important part for me is that it lists my mother’s Hebrew/Yiddish name.  We sometimes had a debate on that as my grandparents, and sometimes my dad, would call her ‘Fegilah,” little bird.  But we were pretty sure her name in Yiddish was Freida, which is confirmed with the ketubah.

The photo with the ketubah almost makes me laugh.  Their wedding was arranged quickly.  Dad was in the army and going to Korea.  Yet there he is in tails and a top hat!  My Mom is standing by the huppah in a veil that almost hides her face. It is much denser than the veil my sister, sister-in-law, and I wore, and our daughters.

They both look so serious.  It is difficult to believe that they were just 22 years old. My uncle, my Mother’s brother, is there as well.  Thanks to him we actually have a movie of my parents’ wedding!  No voices, but all the action is shown.

To me having this photo together with the ketubah is important.  It is a link that ties the document to the people in it.  Now forever together in this blog.

I think that is why I am the designated keeper of the records.

More on Esther and Leon’s London Wedding

9 Apr

There are times I truly love Facebook.   When I posted my last article about my husband’s grandparents, I tagged all his many cousins to see if someone knew something I could not find.  And yes, they did.  I am especially thankful to the two Esther/Ester who are namesakes of their grandmother.

One Esther let me know why Leon came to the United States. Leon came to the USA through Canada to be the town doctor in Lone Star, Kansas, near Leavenworth.

Why there, I do not know. But that is where my husband’s Kansas roots began.  I have researched the town and now know that it was located south of Lawrence.   Which is really not close to Leavenworth, about 47 miles.     It looks like it was quite a small community, which had a post office from 1875 until 1953.

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Thank you to my husband’s cousin for sending me this!

But then the second Ester commented that she had their English or civil marriage license!  It states that they were actually married in the Register Office on July 17, 1903.  Esther’s father Abraham and a man named, Is. Zaidner, were the witnesses. They had a civil marriage several weeks before their Jewish wedding ceremony, which was held in August.

While Leon is listed the correct age and as a medical student on the document; Esther is listed as an 18-year-old spinster.  WAIT! 18!  The misinformation she provided is even larger.  That is even older than the family legend states.  We were told she said she was 16 when she got married. But we know in fact she was not quite 14.

I am beginning to wonder if Leon knew exactly how old the girl he fell in love with was when he first met her.  They met when she hurt her arm, and Leon stitched it. The healing touch won her heart!  And the stories I have heard is that he was immediately smitten.

From the marriage license we also learn that Leon’s father, Aron, was a solicitor.  That makes sense, the family legend says that Leon had both a law degree and a medical degree!  Quite an educated man for the beginning of the 20 Century.  (Cousin update: Leon’s father, Benjamin Aharon Matassaru was a lawyer and a mayor in Romania. In fact, he was the first Jewish mayor of the city of Dorohoi). Esther’s father, Abraham, was a greengrocer.

I now also know the address of their first home in Whitechapel, London.

As for Aunt Jean and her birthday, it seems she continued to make herself three years younger throughout her life.  Although born in 1907, she told everyone that she was born in 1910.  When she passed away, her birth year was noted at 1908, making her 100 years old when she passed.  But we now know in reality she was 101!  Several cousins commented on this, included one of her grandchildren. (Another update, Jean’s daughter is happily still alive. She said that her mom wanted her dad to think she was younger perhaps because they were the same age. Thanks to Jean’s granddaughter for finding out!)

Thank you all for your help in making this history as complete as possible.  If there is anything else out there about Esther and Leon’s marriage, I am glad to continue to update so that we have a full and factual history.

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/06/more-family-legends-confirmed/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/04/the-great-alie-street-synagogue-my-husbands-family-london-ties/

https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/

 

More Family Legends Confirmed

6 Apr
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Esther and Leon wedding photo.

Now that I found my husband’s grandparents’ ketubah (Jewish marriage license), I can be definite about another family legend.

The rumor was that his Grandmother Esther was anywhere from 12 to 15 years old when she married her husband Leon, who was 25. My mother-in-law told me that her mother was 12 when she married.  My husband’s first cousin, also named Esther, told me that her grandmother was 15.  All agreed she lied and said she was 16 when she married in 1903.

I now have facts.  She was born October 4, 1889.  That means when she married on August 9, 1903, she was not quite 14.  I have to be honest, this shocked me.  I cannot imagine letting my 13-year-old daughter marry a man who was 12 years older, 25, even if he was a well-educated and kind physician.  I guess times were different.  However, it was London, England, and not the wild west. All that went through my brain, was: “What were her parents, Abraham and Rachel, thinking!!!”  But the marriage occurred, so they must have approved.  (See blog below.)

They lived in England, where their first three children were born.  The oldest was born when Esther was 15 years old. The next when she was 17, and so on until she had 10 living children.  She died in childbirth in 1933, when she was 44.  She is buried with an infant.  (See blog below.)

Leon immigrated to the United States in February of 1908.  And another legend is correct, they came through Canada.  It makes sense as she was a citizen of England, coming to Canada was not a problem.   Leon was born in Romania, but he had lived in England for a while.  But actually only he entered the USA at Vanceboro, Maine, which is located across the St. Croix River from St. Croix, New Brunswick, Canada.  There is a railroad that connects the two cities, which was opened in 1871.  I assume he came by rail.

Interesting there is an E Matassarin that took a boat to Canada around the same time.  But Esther and her three children actually moved to the USA on August 7, 1920, on the ship, Carmania. The three children were Malvenia (Molly), Joseph and Jeanne.  (I have to add one comment here.  Their third child, Jeanne, was born in England, supposedly in July 1908.  Either she was born a year earlier, making her 101 when she died, or they came a year later.  I think she was a year older!  A family member has confirmed the 1907 birthdate.)

When they arrived they stayed with family members from Esther’s side before they took the journey to Kansas.

Over the years, Esther’s age moved back and forth in the census.  In a 1925 census of the city in Kansas where she lived, she is listed as 35 years old and her husband is 47.  Their true ages.  She had six children living with them ranging from age 4-18.  Her oldest daughter had already died as a young adult.  (Her grave was moved from Wichita to Leavenworth so she could be buried with her parents.)

But in the 1930 census, just five years later, she lists herself as being 42, adding two years to her life, and now just ten years younger than her husband.  She has an additional two living children, including my husband’s mother. One more live birth would occur soon after the census.

They originally lived in Brooklyn in New York City after they immigrated to the USA. Then they moved to Kansas, living at times in both Wichita and Leavenworth.  I know that Leon became a naturalized citizen of the USA in September 1915 in Wichita.

My husband’s grandfather served as a doctor for the USA Army during World War 1.  He was shipped overseas on August 23, 1919 on a ship called, Chicago. He was stationed at the US Army Base Hospital #58, which was located in Rimaucourt, France.  The Army Hospital in Rimaucourt was the last US military hospital created in WW 1 and only existed until February 1919.  I am not sure where he went after this base closed.

He left the USA as a captain.  When he returned he held the rank of major. He left Brest, France, the main port the USA used during the war, on September 10, 1919, serving just over a year in Europe.  He arrived home on the ship, Mount Vernon, docking in Hoboken, New Jersey on September 19,1919.

One more item about Leon and his time during World War 1. He found a way, through the JDC, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to send $10.00 to his mother, and his sister, Anna, in Romania on October 17, 1917.  (I found this in the JDC Archives.)

He ended up in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he continued to work on the military base.  He was discharged from military duty in 1930 with the rank of Major. I believe he then went into private practice.  Unfortunately, his wife died just a few years later.  The memory my mother-in-law told me was that he went every day to visit his wife’s grave until he died.  Years ago, when I went to the cemetery, there was a stone bench next to her grave.  I believe her memory to be true.

My husband’s mother was about eight when her mother died and 17 when her father died in the middle of World War 2.  She was the third youngest child.  Some of her older siblings served during the war and were dispersed throughout the world.

I am so glad that JewishGen.org, the Archives.jdc.org  and Ancestry.com had records that helped me piece together this history.  I also used Wikipedia for info about towns in France and Canada.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/01/11/cemetery-records-impacts-family-stories/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/04/04/the-great-alie-street-synagogue-my-husbands-family-london-ties/