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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/

“Who are you?” These Photos Call Out to Me

3 Nov

I look through this photo album and I cringed. There are so many unnamed children and adults. Did they survive? How are they related? Who are you? Who ARE you?

For some I am fortunate, there are names written on the back of the photos in English, or German or Yiddish. And someone can translate the names for me. The English ones are easy, I usually know who they are and how they are related. Some are photos of people I knew about, but had not seen.  Some I post on Tracing the Tribe Facebook group to see if someone can translate the words written on the backs for me.

Others are photos of people now identified as a cousin. But I have no idea who they are? How they are related? Or what happened to them during or perhaps after the Shoah? The photos are from the 1920s and 1930s in Europe. It is almost painful to look at these photos because I do not know what happened.   And I imagine the worst. I only can look at a few photos at a time.

My grandmother's first cousin, Dora, and her husband.

My grandmother’s first cousin, Dora, and her husband.

The ones I know give me a chill.   I see one of a couple, Dora and Max, from what I think is their wedding in 1924. Oh My. I met Dora in Israel in 1975 when I took my Grandma Thelma to Israel to see her brother and family.   She had not seen her brother since 1932, over 40 years. Much had happened to them and to their family.

While in Israel on this trip, I met many family members who came specifically to see my grandmother. Although I had lived in Israel and gone to college there for a year, I had not met these people before.

But really of the new family members I met, I remember Dora and her daughter the best.   I still l can hear her daughter asking me all sorts of questions about my grandmother. When I questioned her, she responded saying basically, “Look I am told that this Thelma is my mother’s first cousin. My mother lost so much in the war, I want to be sure who she is before I bring her to see this Thelma.”

And so I answered the questions. The answers were right. My grandmother and Dora were first cousins. They had not seen each other also in over 40 years.

They spoke only in Yiddish.

I will never forget their meeting. I will never forget the tears and the pain as Dora told my grandmother what had happened. I will never forget seeing them sit together on the couch in our room holding hands and crying. Dora’s daughter, who was the age of my mother, handing them tissues. I was overwhelmed. I was just 20, and this was beyond my abilities to cope. I sat and I listened and I watched.

The back of the photo with the inscription.

The back of the photo with the inscription.

So to open this album and see a photo of Dora and her husband from 1924 almost breaks my heart. A photo inscribed to my grandmother: “Die Kusiene Taba Schenk in America, Die Beste grusse fenden wir dir deine kusiene   Dora and Max 11/2/1924.”

Taba Schenk, Tova Szenk, my grandmother’s maiden name. My grandparents married a few months later, and my grandmother became Tova/Thelma Amsterdam.

In the photo, Dora is a young woman, but she looks just like the woman I met so many years ago in a hotel in Tel Aviv. She is not as old of course. But the face is the same. She is cleared eyed holding on to a long strand of pearls, her husband sitting next to her.
Dora’s life changed with the war.   But she survived. She had children and grandchildren. And eventually reunited for a visit with her kusiene Tova.

About the photo album:

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

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

An earlier post about the trip to Israel with my Grandma:  https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

Finding Katie!

13 Jun

When my maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1922, she was sponsored by her father’s sister: her Aunt Gussie. I wrote about this in another blog, which I will reference at the end.

Grandma became very good friends with her first cousin, Katie L. They remained friends throughout their lives, even though they did not live near to each other. But the letters and phone calls seemed to keep their love for each other in tact.

Katie’s married name was Katie Alexander. That is the name we always heard, and this was the name we thought of when we spoke of Katie. It was so ingrained in our lives.   Grandma loved her cousin, Katie; she spoke of her often!

I think my sister was the most in love with the name.   She named her son, Alexander. And four years later, she named her daughter Katherine, or Katie. My Mom at first said, “How can you name her Katherine?” My sister was naming her daughter after my grandmother, whose name was Thelma in English/ Tova in Hebrew.

My sister reminded my Mom that Katie was Grandma’s friend and cousin. And since she did not want to name her daughter Thelma, she thought she would use Tova as the Hebrew name and Katie, Grandma’s cousin’s name for the English.

I laughed. I often tell my sister that she named her children for Katie Alexander. And so the name stays alive in my family.

Album

Last summer, while we were cleaning out the attic of the Catskill’s home that had been both our grandparents and parents, we found an old brown leather photo album. It was filled with photos from the 1920s. Many had no names. Some had Yiddish or Hebrew writing on the back. Some had just an address or a place.

Grandma:Katie

But within the photos was a photo from 1924 of Grandma and Katie. That was it. I decided I had to find out what happened to Katie Alexander’s family. Thanks to the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group, I now have that information. The wonderful members of the group found members of Katie’s family for me. And then I contacted them.

I have been in touch with one of her sons, a niece and a granddaughter. I have found out that another name we often heard in our home was Katie’s brother. We never knew Katie’s maiden name. She was always referred to by her married. But I realized after I send them some photos, that the Sam L. that my grandmother spoke was Katie’s brother. WOW!

I am hoping that they will be able to identify more of the photos in the album so we can put names to those nameless young men and women who were so important to my grandmother. I am so happy we were able to find Katie.

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

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