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Seeing A Surviving Synagogue in Lubeck, Germany, Made My Day!

11 Sep
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The Holestentor, gate to the old city of Lubeck.

When we toured the UNESCO Heritage site of Lubeck, Germany, I loved the oval-shaped, island city which is surrounded by the river Trave.  I never thought I would enjoy being in Germany.  I carried my grandparents’ and parents’ distress about the destruction of our family in Europe during the war. But I hoped that Germany of today is not the Germany of the 1930s and 40s. So I went with an open mind.

Of course. I had to ask our tour guide about Jewish Lubeck.  She was open and sincere and had knowledge.  I am sure I am not the first person to ask her. She informed me that before the 1800s Jews were not allowed to live in the old city.  But afterwards, when the French took it over, Jewish residents moved in. But they had to leave again after the French and Napoleon were defeated. Jewish residents did not move back until 1848.

She told me that the synagogue in Lubeck survived because the Germans did not want to damage the museum that was next to it. It was built in the middle 1800s.  She gave me directions to find it during our free time.  The synagogue was closed for renovations, but I had to see this German synagogue that survived the war.

My husband and I took a ten-minute walk in the rain to the building. For me it was well worth it.  It seemed, from the outside, to be in good shape. A red brick building set far back from the street, the area in front was gated off and a sign explaining what was happening was in front.  When we were there a group of elementary school children were walking by.  Their laughter and joy in the rain, lightened my spirit.  Although I could not go inside, below I have put a link to what the shul looked like inside in the 1920s.

Our guide also told me an interesting story. She said that Jewish resident of Lubeck who escape Germany and settled in England helped to save the city. She said that the city was bombed by the Royal Air Force of Britain in March 1942 in retaliation for Germany bombing Coventry.  During that bombing 20 percent of the historic area was destroyed.  That was the only major bombing of the city, but it caused much damage.

From what I had read, the reason it was bombed was to test the firebombs to see how much destruction they would cause on the narrow streets of the old city. About 300 people were killed during the raid, so I think the RAF succeeded in destruction.   Her story is not totally correct from what I can tell. But that bombing was the only major attack on Lubeck.

She also said, that the Jewish resident who fled Germany to London wanted to save Lubeck. That made me wonder, could it be true?  Would a Jewish resident want to save a city in Germany?  It is a lovely historic area, but really after fleeing to survive, would I want to save my home town? I am not sure. However, that was her comment.

She continued that this man was a relative of the head of the Red Cross. So, I did research.  I think it all goes back to a man named Eric M. Warburg, who was born in Hamburg, Germany, not far from Lubeck in 1910.  He fled to the United States in 1938 and he became an intelligence officer for the US army and helped get German scientists and their families to the United States and out of Germany. He served as a liasion officer between the RAF and the US Army Air Force.

He along with Carl Jacob Burchhardt, who was president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, made Lubeck port a Red Cross port to supply prisoners of war with aid. Since Burchhardt was not Jewish, I assume she was referring to Warburg, even though he was not the head of the Red Cross, he had contacts. Also it made sense for Lubeck to be the Red Cross port as near Lubeck, the Nazis had a prisoner of war camp for officers, Oflag X-C, from 1940 to 1945.

Mr. Warburg was a member of a large Jewish-German banking family.   Could he have had a relative who lived in Lubeck and wanted to save it?  Maybe? Or could it be Mr. Warburg himself, a Hamburg native, who supposedly tried to save Lubeck?

I just have no proof of this. But I do have proof that members of the Jewish community in Lubeck were murdered by the Nazis.  I found five Stumbling Stones (Stolpersteine) for Jewish residents who were murdered in Riga. In fact, the last 85 Jewish residents in Lubeck were deported to Riga Ghetto in 1941-42, including Rabbi Joseph Carlebach (1883-1942), who was murdered in the Shoah.

You might notice that two of the Stolpersteine are for victims with the last name Alexander.  I have in my family members with this surname.  I will admit that I felt an extra pang in my heart when I read these two stones.  (See blog below about my Alexander family.)

I am not sure if there are any Jewish residents in Lubeck now.  There are about 3000 who currently live nearby in Hamburg.  At one point, before WW2, Hamburg had almost 20,000 Jewish residents.

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Salzspeicher houses along the Trave River.

Lubeck has many lovely medieval buildings.  I saw the unique entrance gate, the Holestentor,  that leads to the old town.  I ate marzipan at the famous Cafe Niederegger, which was founded over 200 years ago.  I saw the Salzspeicher houses that stand along the Trave River close to the gate. We walked past the home of Thomas Mann’s family. But for me, seeing a synagogue that survived World War 2 in Germany, was the highlight of the day in Lubeck.

 

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_L%C3%BCbeck_in_World_War_II

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_M._Warburg

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10165-lubeck

https://dbs.bh.org.il/place/hamburg?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI2PabjJTH5AIVBr7ACh3P1gVmEAAYASAAEgJd4vD_BwE

 

https://dbs.bh.org.il/image/interior-of-the-synagogue-of-lubeck-germany-1920-c

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

 

Discovering My Amsterdam Heritage in Amsterdam

26 Aug

Amsterdam has been the destination my heart has yearned to visit. My Grandfather’s last name was Amsterdam. We know his family moved from Spain to Portugal to Amsterdam to Poland where his family got the last name Amsterdam while others became Hollanders. So I always wanted to see where my family found safety. (I have written about this in the blog below.)

My first connection came unexpectedly. We first toured the Anne Frank House, which was of course heartbreaking to know how close they came to survival. But while there I noticed something I never realized. Anne’s mother’s maiden name was Hollander. I had an Oy vey moment. I knew that Anne Frank and my mom were both born in 1929. But now there was the connection in name. Could we possibly have been distantly related? My horror was multiplied. I have already found so many of my family murdered in the Shoah. (See blog below.)

Then while taking a canal tour we rode past the new town hall and ballet. We were told that the old Jewish Section of town was razed to build this and there was a community outcry. But it still happened. As we rode past I saw a black monolith with Hebrew inscribed in gold. I knew I would be back.

The next morning my husband and I took the 14 tram to the Portuguese Synagogue. We walked around the area. It was not open yet, so we could not go inside. But I assume this is where my family worshipped after their arrival in Holland. I saw the outside of the Jewish Museum. I need to go back to visit these sites in he future.

In front of the Synagogue was a statute with the date February 25, 1941. On this date was major strike started against the Nazis because of the roundup of Jewish citizens. The Germans were harsh in stopping the strike. Many would died and be deported. It was my first reminder of the Shoah.

But my focus was on finding the monolith. My husband and I started walking the almost mile to the Town Hall. Along the way I saw my first stolperstein, golden stones, in front of a home listing the Holocaust victims. I knew they existed but had never seen them before outside of photos. It was another ache to the heart.

We continued our walk until we found the monolith on the edge of the land overlooking the canal. The black monolith commemorating those who died. Again I thought of all who found safety there in the 1600s but could not find it in the 1900s. I have to be honest, it reminded me of the giant black monolith of “2001 A Space Odyssey ” indicating great change. The change here was the decimation of the Jewish community.

A short walk away from the monolith was a statute in honor of Spinoza, who was born in Amsterdam at this location. I was surprised to find it here, although I know his history. There was a plaque nearby that discussed Spinoza’s impact on ethics and philosophy.

My desire to discover my Amsterdam heritage in Amsterdam was not totally quenched. I will need to go back to the Synagogue and museum another time. But I still feel closer to my family history.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/09/as-spain-welcomes-back-jews-expelled-in-the-1400s-i-share-my-spanish-roots/

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

Breaking Hearts: Children in Distress

8 Aug

I know someone who is a survivor.  Although 95 years old, she still remembers the day she was put on a Kindertransport and saw her mother for the last time.  Although she knows what her mother did made sense, and allowed her and her siblings to survive, she still yearns for the mother who perished in the Shoah.

I have family members who survived the Shoah, but their spouses and children were murdered.  Their families destroyed.  They carried that sadness for their entire lives.  Two of them never remarried and never had other families.  The Shoah, the loss of their children was never forgotten.  How could you forget this?

So, when I see the photos of the children left behind when ICE agents raided the places where their parents worked, I think of these families.   I have to say, how is our government better than those who were in cahoots with the Nazis?   How can the ICE agents say they were just doing their jobs, just as the German soldiers did after the war was over, when they know that there are children being left behind with no one to care for them?   How can that be right?

I am sorry, but what I see terrifies and disgusts me.  For a government to do such acts and for the people to do these acts without thinking about the ramifications to the children, makes me sad for them.   I think they will eventually be punished for crimes against humanity.

When people look at the ICE agents, they see terror.  Is that what the ICE agents want to be known for?  For scaring children and destroying their fragile sense of security?

There are much better ways to deal with immigrants.   And those ways do not include cancelling all USA aid to other countries.  It does not include terrorizing people at the borders.  It does not include ripping children from their families and housing them in mass detention camps. It does not include leaving children unattended.  It does not include calling people coming to our borders for help ‘an invasion.’ It does not include dehumanizing families, children, parents.

What it should include is finding a way for those who have been good citizens of this country, paying their taxes and doing their jobs, a way for them to become citizens.  It allows those in refuge situations a way to find a safe haven.

It should not allow hateful speech and actions spewed at them by people in authority.  It should not include secret cabals spreading hateful language on secret Facebook pages.

Shouldn’t we have learned from the 1930s and 40s when we denied safe haven to those fleeing Europe?  My own family perish in the fires of the Shoah because they could not get visas.

It should include finding safe havens for the children, whose lives have been uprooted in so many ways.   The United States is a country of the people, by the people and for the people, which includes liberty and justice for all.  This administration seems to have forgotten our unique message to help the huddle masses and to be a safe haven.

Everyone should be horrified by what is happening.  And if you are not, then I pity you, because you have lost your humanity.

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/