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For My Grandpa, Being a Kohan Was His Joy and Duty

27 Jun
Inside Shul in Kauneonga Lake

My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 30 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

My maternal Grandpa was a Kohan, a descendant of the Priests of Israel.  Even today, Kohanim have roles and duties that are part of their lives.  Grandpa was born in Galicia, an area of Austria/Poland that often changed borders.  He came to the USA in 1920.  And eventually owned his own kosher bakery in New Jersey, as well as a small bungalow colony in the Catskills.  But he always kept the rules of the Kohanim.

Grandpa often served as the Kohan during the Pidyon ha Ben ceremony.  This ceremony is also called the redemption of the first born.  In biblical times the first-born child, if it is a son, of an Israelite family had to be given to the Kohanim.   The family needs to present five silver coins to a representative of the Kohanim.  My grandfather was often asked to serve as this representative.   He would lead the ceremony and take the silver coins, which he kept until the boy was bar mitzvah, when he would return the coins as part of the child’s bar mitzvah gift.

I remember as a child being at a Pidyon ha Ben service.  I was so intrigued by the ceremony.  But I think more by the money.  I asked what Grandpa did with all the silver coins.  My Grandma told me that Grandpa did not use that money.  He saved it in a special place to return to the boy when he was older.

I wonder how they could keep track of that money.  But then my grandparents owned a kosher bakery, and my grandmother saved every silver coin that came into the store.  When she died, we found 900 silver coins, from dimes to silver dollars.  They were divided up so that everyone one of their descendants had some.  I still have mine.

Grandpa rarely went to a cemetery.   In fact, I don’t remember him ever going to a cemetery. He always paid shiva calls, but not the funeral.  Kohanim do not go near the dead. He did not go into a service until my grandmother died.   Kohanim do not go near the dead.  In fact, some Jewish funeral homes are built with two foundations, so that Kohanim can stay in the outer area during a funeral. There but not in the same structure.  I can still see my Grandpa during my Grandma’s funeral, even though it was almost 40 years ago.

Grandpa went to services on Shabbat.  He made so many Kohan aliyot at Shabbat services.  When they moved to the Catskills full time.  He was often the only Kohan at shul.  It became his responsibility to go every week and be the Kohan.  He took this honor seriously.

When he was in his later years, over 80, he would drive partway to shul and then walk the distance that he could walk.  Although he was brought up not driving on Shabbat or working, in the 1980s at his shul in Kauneonga Lake, people drove to services, even parking on the grounds of the shul, Congregation Temple Beth El. But not Grandpa.  He would park by Sylvia’s clothing store, up the hill from the main part of Kauneonga Lake and easier for him to walk.  I once asked him why he didn’t just park at the shul.   His response, “I walk as far as I can, because I can do that for Shabbat.”

On the high holidays he was often the only Kohan at the Kauneonga Lake shul.  On the high holidays he would sit in the men’s section with his tallit wrapped over his head covering his eyes.  When I was little my favorite time was sitting with him in shul with his tallit covering me as well.  He kept his hands over his eyes under the tallit as he davened.  His emotions during the high holidays was overwhelming.  My sister said it was her strongest memory, how upset and emotional he would get them, as Grandpa usually had a great sense of joy.  But then as an adult she realized that the pain of the Shoah came to him then.  He was the only one left of his family.  All perished in Europe, while he was already in the USA.

Sometimes he was the only Kohan at shul to perform the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessings.  Grandpa had a beautiful singing voice.  He often sang to us in Yiddish. During the Priestly Blessings, he sang for everyone and blessing the entire congregation.  At times there were other Kohanim present, especially if the holidays were early in September.  Then Grandpa would be joined by others on the bima.

At some point, another Kohan moved to the Kauneonga Lake area and also went to services.  Grandpa was thrilled.  Sometimes he would not go to services on Shabbat.  He would say, “Let the other guy have a chance.”

It was this statement that brought this story to my mind last weekend..  My husband is a Levi.  He goes to minyan every Wednesday, but to Shabat services about once a month. He almost always gets Levi.  Our congregation only has three Levis who come weekly.  They, like my grandfather, are happy when another guy comes. This week the Gabbi came and said, “Do you want Levi?” “Sure,” was my husband’s response.  “Good because the others say they don’t want it today, you should take it.”  During this short conversation, in my mind’s eye, I could see my Grandpa’s smiling and laughing.

Grandpa took his role as a Kohan with joy and fulfilled his duty.  I know he would be happy seeing my husband fulfilling his duty as well.

 

 

 

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008437/jewish/Birkat-Kohanim-Melody.htm

 

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/

 

This Jacket is a Survivor!

20 May

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I am cleaning out my cedar chest.  I had no idea what was piled up inside.  But surprises keep coming! My biggest surprise find was a jacket belonging to my mother.  I honestly forgot it was there.  I thought I had lost it in my many moves years ago.  But here it is:  A grayish brown wool jacket.  It is definitely from the late 1940s/early 1950s in both style and by history.

This is not just any jacket.  It was made by my mother’s uncles.  I am not sure which one, either David or Isaac.  They survived the Shoah because they were tailors.  When they escaped Poland they headed into Russia, where I am told they worked making soldiers’ uniforms.  I have no proof of this. But that is the story I was told.

After the war, they ended up in Italy first, where they waited for papers.  My uncles had my grandmother and another sister in the United States.  My aunts had relatives, sisters I think, in Australia.  They decided they would go to live in whatever country and near whoever sent visas first.  They just wanted out of Europe and away from fear.

The visas came from Australia.  So they went to Melbourne.  This jacket was made by my uncles in Melbourne after they settled there and sent to my mother in the United States.  Can you image? I can’t.

I know they were in contact throughout their journey of survival.   I know that my grandmother and aunt tried to get them visas to the USA and sent them money to survive after the war.

I know that they helped to support them throughout their lives.  My Uncle David died when he was in his late 30s in Australia.  He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Melbourne.  Eventually the survivors, my Uncle Isaac, his wife Bronia and, David’s widow, Rosa moved to Israel with my cousin, where she still lives with her family.

When they moved to Israel, we sent care packages to them.  It was 1965 or 1966.  I still remember when I was 11 learning about my cousin. We became pen pals, writing back and forth for many years.  We still keep in contact, but now through What’s Ap and Facebook.

The year (1974-75) I studied at Hebrew University in Israel, I would spend time with my family, my uncle, aunts and cousin in Kiriat Haim, which is just north of Haifa.   During one visit, Uncle Isaac surprised me with a bag to carry my school supplies when I traveled from Jerusalem to visit family.  He also made me a pillow to decorate my room.  I was a great bag for that as it was the perfect size with a zipper.  And no one else had anything like.  I actually used it to go to class.  I still have both of these items.

After my return from Israel, my mother gave the jacket to me.  It longer fit her and she thought I would wear it.   Since I spent so much time with my family in Israel, the jacket carried so many emotions with it.  When I was younger, I would wear the jacket and think of all my great uncles and aunts went through during the war.  How they survived the war and got out of Europe.  It is a jacket of survival and strength in my mind.

So I guess I will continue to keep this jacket.  It has a few moth-eaten areas.  The color has faded.  But to me, its symbol of survival and new lives makes it so valuable.  It tells me to never give up.  To survive and be a survivor.

 

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

 

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

 

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/

How The KinderTransport Touched My Family

5 Nov

I have always been intrigued by the KinderTransport that saved 10,000 Jewish children during the Shoah as they were transported out of Nazi territory and on to England by train and then across the English Channel.  In my mind I imagined the heaviness of heart of the parents as they put their children’s safety first and sent them to live in a foreign country with people they did not know.  What brave parents they were to know they might not survive, but to give their children a chance no matter the peril!

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My interest sparked me to read books about these trains.  And even brought my attention to the orphan trains that brought children from the east coast out to the middle of the country on Orphan Trains. In my mind the two were linked together.  The KinderTransport children were not yet orphans, but many would be by the end of the war.  The Orphan Train children were often in orphanages or living on the streets when they were sent away.

But I did not know of anyone who actually rode the trains to a new life brining the children to safety away from the horrors of Europe, except for a man I met on a cruise several years ago.  (See blog below.)

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The sisters,  Martha and Rosa, who I now know survived thanks to the KinderTransport.

However, recently that all changed.  I now know that two of my relatives survived the Shoah when their parents put them on a train to England from Breslau, Germany.  Their mother was my grandmother’s first cousin.  These two girls were around the age of my mother, their second cousin. Except for a photo I found and wrote about, we would not have known about the sisters.

Their mother, Celia, perished in the Shoah.  I thought they had as well.  All I had was a photo of two girls and a brief inscription on the back.  But from that inscription, I was able to find out that at least one of the girls survived.  I did not know how she survived, but I knew she lived and wrote a Yad V’Shem testimony for her mother.  From little information I had,  I wrote a blog (see below) about a year ago, wanting to know more.

Recently that blog was read by someone in England, who gave me the news that both girls had survived and had come to England on the KinderTransport.  That one girl, Martha, had lived with this person’s in-laws during the war. The families had been in touch until Martha’s death.

Now I have new wonders.  Did my grandmother know that her cousin’s children had survived?  Did anyone know?  The testimony was not written until 1999 from Australia.  So perhaps not.  Perhaps the sisters had been lost to the family forever because of the Shoah. I think this is a question that will never have an answer as anyone who might have known is long gone.

I wish I knew more.  I have reached out to the person who contacted me to see if she has more information.  I have not heard back.  But I thank her for contacting me at all and helping to solve another Shoah mystery for my family.

My searches continue.  I must admit, that this one at least gave me some hope and some joy. The KinderTransport touched my family; saved two lives.  That is the best knowledge of all.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/04/06/cruise-conversations-that-linger-in-my-heart/

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

 

One More Family Destroyed

6 Sep

It has been over a month since I last wrote about the testimonies of Shalom Hollander, my grandfather’s cousin who wrote the Yad VaShem testimonies for about 40 members of my family including my great grandparents and a great uncle.  I needed time away from the visions of horrors that his testimonies put into my mind as I thought of all these relatives who were lost. (See links to blogs below.)

But there was one last family that I was determined to write about because they all perished.

A family of five died in 1941-42.  They were Hirsh Tzvi Feuer, the son of Eliezer and Leah Feuer, and his wife, Dvora Amsterdam, the daughter of Tzvi and Chava Amsterdam.  As I have written in earlier blogs, the names Amsterdam and Feuer are common in my grandfather’s family.  My great grandmother was an Amsterdam, also named Chava, and my great grandfather was a Feuer. They, my great grandparents were first cousins.  There was so much intermarriage between these two families!

I have the names of all my great great grandparents and their siblings.  And, although I have the names of my three times great grandparents, I do not know the names of their siblings.  I am sure, however, that Hirsh Tzvi Feuer and Dvora Amsterdam’s parents are among those names.  Shalom identifies himself as a relative in these testimonies. Also he indicates that Hirsh was a farmer, and my great grandparents and their families were farmers in Trzciana.

Tzvi was born in 1895 and his wife, Dvora, in 1908, which make them contemporaries of my grandparents who were born in 1900 and 1906.  I would assume that my grandfather knew them when he was a child.  They lived before the war in Wola Mielecka, Poland, but they lived during the war in Trzciana, Poland, my grandfather’s home town. Wola Mielecka was close by, all the surrounding areas to the town of Mielec, Poland.

Tzvi and Hava had three children who perished.  Lea Feuer who was 4. Obviously named for her grandmother.  Chava Feuer, age 6, named for the other grandmother.  Then the third child, Eliezer, an infant, named for his grandfather.

I hope there are other children who survived. Who were older.  Hirsh Tzvi was 47 when he was murdered.  Dvora was 34.  I hope there could have been several children in their early teens?  Perhaps I am doing wishful thinking.  But in my heart, I want them to have been survived by someone besides Shalom Hollander. I do not want this entire family to have perished.

But like the family of Shalom Hollander, there is a possibility that they were all murdered along with thousands of others when the Nazi’s made the Mielec area Judenfrie.  Of the almost 4000 Jewish residents of the Mielec area, only a few hundred survived.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/07/the-sorrow-of-shalom-hollander/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/05/murdered-in-belzec/

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

Discovering Karola’s Kielce Pogrom Testimony

12 Aug

In February 2017 I published a blog about discovering my grandmother’s cousin was in Kielce, Poland, during the Pogrom in July 1946. (See blog link below.) Since then I have been continuing my research on the lost remnants of my grandparent’s families.  Along the way, I have discovered more about Karola.

First off, I now know her entire name, which brings me more understanding. Korala’s mother and my great grandmother were sisters.  My grandmother was her first cousin.

Our families did keep in touch.  My father often went to Paris on business, occasionally my Mom would accompanied him and would visit a cousin who lived there.  That cousin was Karola.  She had changed her name from the Polish sounding to a more French name, and of course I recognized the last name.

In any case, it was when I found the village where my great grandmother was born, that I found also the Viroshov Yitzkor Book published in 1970.   In it, written in Yiddish, was Karola’s testimony about the Kielce Pogrom.   I must thank my friend, Blumah W., the local Chabbad rebbetzin, who spent several hours with me as she translated this moving memory.

I think with what is going on in Poland today, with the country’s wanting to deny their people’s involvement in the Nazi’s intent to destroy and annihilate the Jewish population.  Karola’s story and memory is even more important because it tells the truth of what really happened in the years pre, during and after the war.

The Kielce Pogrom By Karola Manes F. as translated by Blumah W.

 “A lot has already been told about the ferocious anti-Semitism of how the majority of Polish treated their Jewish neighbors during all the years of the Polish existence. It is still fresh in memory.  The anti- Jewish politics in pre-war Poland using power against the Jewish workers and merchants, and the hooligans acting against the Jewish young students. 

        Also, during the time of the War, being under the German occupation, the Poles did not forget their anti-Semitic tradition.  They were very much supportive of the Nazi program and worked with the Nazis for the annihilation of the Jewish nation.  (“G-d forbid,” added by Blumah.)

          When the war finished, the Jewish remnants were hidden in different places. A few Jewish people who were saved began to look in their birth places for their relatives; their flesh and blood.   Also, then there came upon these survivors, unruly/wild Polish bandits, bands of Poles, who murdered these few left over Jews.

           The culmination point of this ferocious Polish behavior was the tragic well-known Kielce Pogrom, which was accomplish over these few ‘leftovers’ in the summer of the year 1946.

            Being be that I was in that time in Kielce where I lived through this tragic chapter, then I will tell what happened during this incident.

            After the war, in Kielce there was the concentration of a larger group of Jews.  The portion of them came from hidden places and from the forests, where they were involved with the armed partisans combat.  Larger groups from back from Russia, where they found themselves during the time of the war.  In order to deal with stream of survivors, a Jewish committee was formed that found themselves on Planty Street. 

           The Polish people right away, in the first days, immediately began to agitate and incite against the Jews.  “TOO many of you remained!”  They said with extreme hate.

           The first provocation was when someone threw the dead body of a Christian woman into the Jewish compound.  It was accompanied with an incitement that they said the Jews murdered this woman.

           Only at night, Russian soldiers came dressed in Polish uniforms and made order. They arrested a number of Polish hooligans.   The next morning, on the way to the funeral, the Jewish people accompanying the dead, were guarded by the Russian soldiers in order to avoid any further incidents by the wild and unruly Polish population

            May these words act as a monument for the holy martyrs of the Kielce Pogrom; May G-d avenge their blood. “

In the last paragraphs, Karola does not talk about how people were murdered or what truly happened on the day of the pogrom.  Instead she talks about the fact that it was Russian soldiers who stopped the pogrom by dispersing the Polish hooligans.

To be honest, I was a bit disappointed.  I wanted to know from her mouth/her pen what truly happened. What she as a survivor saw.  But then, I realized, it was too much.  She had survived a ghetto, a concentration camp and now a pogrom, who am I to want more from her?

https://zicharonot.com/2017/02/27/what-happened-to-karola/