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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/

 

Identifying A Photo is Hanukkah Miracle

6 Dec

My grandmother’s photo album continues to amaze me.  As I revisit it every few months,  I always find photos that call out to me.  This time, the portrait of a middle age man caught my attention.

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I believe this is my great grandfather.

He looked so familiar, but at the same time, not so much.  Then I looked more closely at his ears.  Do not laugh!  But his ears were very telling.  And I thought, “Wait, I think that is my great grandfather.”  I pulled out my great grandfather’s passport. And compared the photos.  And yes, in my mind the ears are the same.  As are the eyes.  He is much older in the passport photo.  And much had happened in his life.  But it is definitely Avraham Shlomo.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

My Great Grandfather’s Green card that save him.

My grandmother’s album is filled with photos from the 1920s and 1930s.  I imagine that this is the photo she brought with her to the United States when she left Poland in the early 1920s.  Her mother had already died.  Her younger siblings, she left behind.

But she kept a photo album of the people she met in the USA And with the many photos sent to her from Europe.  Some I have identified.  But many more remain a mystery, because they have no identification,  that I still try to discover.  The hardest ones to see are the children.  Grandma put in several photos of large groups of children, I would assume from a school photo.  I wonder how many survived?

Each time, I figure out who someone is, I feel as if a great miracle has occurred.  So today I had  my Hanukkah miracle for the year, discovering this photo of my great grandfather in his middle age.  A younger vision of him before so much sorrow occurred in Poland and Europe.

Here is the blog I wrote when I first discovered this album.  But I have written many others since then.  Each discovering just an amazing find.  You can see more of the photos in the Category: Grandma’s Photo Album.

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

My Grandma’s Favorite Photo

7 Jul

Grandma's Favorite photo

This is my Grandma’s favorite photo of herself.  She loved it so much that she took another photo taken the same day and cut her head out to put on an membership card. It caused a major fuss that summer in the Catskills! A fuss that lasted several days!

We (my Mom, sister and I) asked why she had cut up that photo of her at 17 or 18, when she was already in her 60s when she used it.  Her answer:  It was her favorite photo and she wanted to use it!

Grandma Thelma

Here it is!  You can even see the staple holes in the photo where she stapled it on to the membership card!  I am not sure what the card was for.  It was not an official government ID.  It must have been for some local group.  I honestly do not remember. (My sister reminded me that the card was for a local senior center.)

I do remember that my Mom was so angry when she saw that Grandma had used this photo and destroyed the original!   I believe it was also my Mom’s favorite photo of her mother as a young woman.  My Mom and Grandma actually got into a major discussion, read that as argument, over this.  But it was too late, the photo was already destroyed. Grandma had thrown away the pieces.

My Mom never knew, because I guess Grandma never told her, that there were several other photos from the same day upstairs in an album the attic.  Unfortunately they both had died before we found the album that had these photos taken of my Grandma and her first cousin, Katie.

If you look at it carefully, you can see in the image we have, Grandma is not wearing the pearls. I assume that the pearls belong to my Aunt Gussie, Katie’s mom.  In the photo that Grandma truly loved, she is wearing the pearls.  A telling gesture. As an adult, pearls played an important role in my Grandma’s life.  Eventually she had many strands of real pearls!

Grandma favorite photo

I think my Mom would have been much happier if she knew that other photos existed.

I understand why Grandma used this photo.  I do not think she ever felt pretty.  She told me many times that growing up they called her Luchen, or noodle or string bean, because her arms and legs were too long for her body. She hated being called that nick name.

My Grandfather, on an audio tape we have from November 1981, a few months after Grandma died, even said that Grandma was not pretty, but she had something special about her.  And so he fell in love with her.

Grandma was bright, intelligent, spoke, read and wrote in several languages.  I thought she was lovely.

Now as a woman in my 60s, I think I understand why she used this photo.  When I look in the mirror, I do not always see someone my age.  I expect to see a much younger person. Sometimes I am surprised.  Recently I said something about it to my husband.  And his response made me think of this photo, as he said,  “You will never look 25 again.”  Sigh.  That was the age I was when we married.

This photo of Grandma was taken a year or two before she married my Grandfather. Perhaps she felt as I, and was remembering the young Thelma. That is how she saw herself, and so that is the photo she used.

(I am thinking about Grandma now, as her birthday was in July.  We will soon mark what would be her 112 birthday.  Although she is gone, her memory continues as a blessing.)

Amazing What Information Two Photos Can Provide

26 Jun

It is a wonder how two photos that I did not know were related could help find a branch of the family that I had no information about.

I have a family album that we found hidden in the bottom of a closet in the attic of what had been my grandparent’s and then my parent’s home in Kauneonga Lake, NY.  We found it when we cleaned the house out about four years ago.  Most of the photos are from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  Many of the photos are unidentified.  But some have comments on the back written in one of many languages including, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German. (See blog below.)

Every few months I open the book and focus on a few of the photos.  It is an emotional task, as I find that many of these photos lead me back to the Shoah.  And often the people in the photos perished in concentration camps or were murdered near their homes.  I find it a bit terrifying.

About a year ago I posted a photo of two young girls on the Tracing the Tribe website.  No one translated that one for me.  I am not sure why.  It probably got posted on a busy day. As usually these short messages are translated in a few hours.

Then about a month ago I posted two identical photos of a young man, but each had a slightly different note on the back, written in German.  I wondered why German, although I knew that my grandmother could read and write German along with three other languages.

I knew that one of the photos of the young man and the photo of the two girls were sent to my grandmother, Tova/Thelma.  And I that the other one of the young man was sent to her aunt, my great aunt Gussie.  This lead me to write about the young man Abraham Prentki/Prantki.  (See blog post below.)

I assumed he had to be the son of one my great grandfather’s three sisters , Esther, Sura or Leba, who we really had no information about.

By some serendipitous decision, I was looking for another post on the Tracing the Tribe Group when I stumbled upon this photo of the young girls who had never been identified.  So I reposted it on Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestoy in Poland.   With in a few hours, I had a translation.  It was to my grandmother, their cousin.  There were names including the last name Granek. This postcard was also written in German.

My Tracing the Tribe friend, Amy, decided to search some more.  Thank you, Amy.  She found a Yad V’Shem testimony written by a Martha Granek Wynn, who wrote a page of testimony for her mother Cella Prentki Granek.   Cella’s parents were Esther Schenk and Pinkus Prentki and they lived in Breslau, Germany.  But originally came from Boleslaviec, Poland, where my grandmother grew up. Cella was murdered in Mauthausen.  The testimony is chilling.  In Place of death: it is written Mauthausen.  In circumstance of death, it is written: Oven.

The pieces were now coming together.  And although I cannot be one hundred percent certain.  This is what I know.  My great grandfather Shlomo Abraham had several sisters.  Gussie moved to the United States, where she married and had four children.  My grandmother moved in with Gussie and her family when she moved to the USA. (See two blogs below.). The postcards from the young man, Abraham Prentki were to his cousin Tova and his Aunt Gussie.  I assumed he had to be the son of Esther, Sura or Leba, my great grandfather’s sisters who we had no information on.  This leads me to believe that Abraham was the brother of Cella Prentki Granek who died at Mauthausen.  And that he was also the son of Esther Schenk Prentki.

Grandma Thelam, Carlsbad

My grandmother is sitting on the right.  Who are the other two women?

More information, we (my sister helps me with my research) know that my grandmother went back to Europe in 1931 with my mother and uncle. (see blog below.). We also know that she left the children behind with her father and then her in laws and went to Breslau to visit her family, her aunt, and go to the waters of Carlsbard/Karlsbard to heal.  The Prentki family lived in Breslau.

My sister says she agrees that this looks right. But we are not totally sure. On the page of testimony there is an address in Melbourne, Australia.  I found this address on line, in Australia.  I sent a letter to the woman who submitted the testimony about her mother, but not sure the family still lives there.  It was written in 1999, and Martha would be in her 90s now. She is probably one of the young girls in the photo.  I am hoping that some family members live there.

However, another connection.  After the war, my grandmother’s two brothers and their wives moved to Australia.  They were waiting for visas to get out of Europe and went when the first visa to Australia arrived.  They lived in Melbourne.  Coincidence?  Or did they move to be with other family who had escaped.  My mother’s first cousin is still alive. She was born in Melbourne in 1955 and now lives in Israel.  I have asked her if she knew this family. But she was a child when she left Australia.

We might never know the truth.  My sister is right,  we cannot be 100 percent sure.  But in my heart, I think these were the Grandchildren children of my great aunt Esther.  In my heart I believe that this was the family my grandmother visited in Breslau.  In my heart I think the mystery of these two photos is solved.  Still not sure about the photo from Karlsbard.

It is amazing what information two photos can lead to.  And that is why I keep going back to this album and searching.

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

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

https://zicharonot.com/2015/06/13/finding-katie/

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

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

The Mystery of Abraham Prantki

4 Jun

As I search through the photo album we found hidden in my grandparent’s attic, I am still finding mysteries and photos of people who were never identified.  But this time, I found one, or should I say two, that were different.

I found two copies of the same photo postcard sent in 1923.  The young man identifies himself as Abraham Prantki.  The cards are made out to my grandmother and to her Aunt Gussie. They say the same thing, “For friendly memories I send my picture to… “

So now the questions.  He sends the one to Tante Gussie, I think.  It might say Tante Sunia?  But the last name is the name of my great-great aunt.  I am assuming that is who he meant? Maybe?

Is he really her nephew, and my grandma’s cousin?  If so then he would be from my great grandfather’s side.  He had five sisters.  I know the descendants of two of them.  However, they were from Poland. So why is this postcard written in German?  But then, they must have read German if that is the language he wrote to them in.  Actually,  my grandmother was well educated. She spoke and read several languages.

The other odd thing… on the top right of the photo addressed to the Tante, there is writing in another handwriting. I have no idea what that says.

I would love to claim him and put him somewhere on my family tree.  He looks a bit like my grandmother’s family. Like he could be related.  But it is just too nebulous.  What do you think?  A first cousin?  A border?  A relative?  Or just a friend?

And then the date, 1923.  My grandmother had been in the USA just a year.  She was 17 and living with her Aunt Gussie.  She married my grandfather in 1925.  So I have to ask, did Abraham Prantki survive?

So many questions.  I might know his name, but I still do not know who he is and what happened to him.

(Thank you to a member of Tracing the Tribe who translated the German on the postcards for me.  Update with more translations:  It seems he did address the one postcard to his cousin and the other to his aunt.  So I say YES a cousin.  I now know that his mother was one of three women, maiden name either Sura Szenk, Esther Szenk or Leba Szenk.  I will check Yad VShem.  Thank you all!)

These two previous posts discuss my grandmother’s family.

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

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

Identities and Connections: Solving Some Photo Mysteries

7 Jan

For my Mother’s yahrzeit, I decided to tackle the photo albums again.  But this time, I went to a album of photos I put together of loose photos that I found after she passed away. They were not in an album, just in a large manila envelope. This time I had some success!

There were two groups of photos labeled Summer 1944 and Summer 1946.  I knew the photos had to be taken in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, New York, as that is where my grandparents had a small bungalow colony when I was a growing up.  But these photos are from before the area was built up.

So I have to back track a bit.  You know when you are a child, you really do not think about your grandparents and parents as people who have friends.  They are your parents and grandparents, and they take care of you.  I never analyze who was their friends or why.  Or even how long they had been friends.  It just was.  And that leads to my discovery.

Among the photos from 1944 was one small one labeled Mr. Fink, in my mother’s handwriting.  This was a good clue.  Up in the Catskills was another bungalow colony, much bigger, called Fink’s Kauneonga Park Bungalows, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  I knew they were good friends of my grandparents. But I guess I never realized they knew each other in 1944, when my grandmother was just 38 years old and grandfather was 44.  This means they were long-term good friends.  It sort of shocked me.

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My Mom on the left, Carolyn next to her.

However, there were many other photos in the piles.  My Mom was in many of them, as was my grandparents and several other young adults, including a girl named Carolyn and boy named, Bob. Carolyn and my Mom were together in many photos. Who was she? I did not know that name. But obviously they were good friends. They were even holding hands in one photo.

Luckily, I am Facebook friends with one granddaughter of the Finks, and I have contact with another granddaughter.  I took some photos of the photos and sent them through messenger to the granddaughters.

PAY DIRT:  Carolyn and Bob were brother and sister and the younger children of Mr. and Mrs. Fink.  Carolyn and my Mom were the same age: obviously friends.  To be able to identify two unknowns made me so happy!!!

But there was more.  Because once I knew who they were and how long they knew each other, other connections made sense.  Mr. and Mrs. Fink!  My grandmother would walk to visit her at least once a week.  My sister or I often went along.  When I was older and needed a job, Mrs. Fink got me a job as a mothers’ helper at her bungalow colony.  My brother worked at their day camp.  And my sister, also worked there answering the telephone! Then she became a mothers’ helper.
The concession stand, that was close to our house, was a place where I often went to get a few items for my Mom.  Whenever we went in, my Mom would have a long conversation with the woman working there.  I found out that was Mrs. Fink’s other daughter, the mother of my Facebook friends.  Wow.  That made sense.  I remember one time Mom was sick and she sent me over there to get something without money.  I was so embarrassed. But they were fine. They said Mom could take care of it later.

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My sister and I think Blacky was Mrs. Fink’s dog.  My grandparents never had one.

But the biggest mystery solved was Carolyn.  Why did I not know of this girl, who was my Mom’s friend.   I asked, Did she marry?  What was her name?  Maybe I knew her by her married name.  And I found out she had medical issues and lived away from home in Arizona!  BINGO.  Whenever my Mom walked over to see Mrs. Fink, there was always a conversation about someone who lived far away. That must have been her!

For me the photos from my mother and father are mysteries that need to be solved.   Whenever a mystery is solved I am elated.  I am thankful I have a connection with Mr. and Mrs. Fink’s granddaughters and for their help solving the puzzle.