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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.

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/

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/