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Amazing Connections Once Again Thanks To Tracing The Tribe

18 Nov

Amazing! That is the word my cousin in Israel and all her first cousins from her father’s side keep posting.  This has been an amazing week for them. I am glad that I played a part making a connection possible.

Last week while browsing through the Tracing the Tribe Facebook group I saw a post that caught my eye.  Many times people post passports, photos and letters to get them translated.  I have done that and have had wonderful help from the members of this group, as we all search for our family and our roots.

But this post was a bit different.  Someone was posting the photos of a passport her husband had purchased on EBay.  (It is also amazing what is for sale on EBay.)  The passport of a young man from Poland who made Aliyah to Israel in 1937.  This time my eyes stopped moving and my heart stopped, because I knew that name.  I knew that face.  I also recognized the town he was from in Poland.  I knew who she was searching for, as my cousin had married one of this man’s four sons over 45 years ago.

Hillel Kalmarski/Kalmarsky!  I knew him!  I met him when I was 19 years old and spending my sophomore year of college in Israel.  My cousin, Sara, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, had married his son when she was 18.  We were the same age.  On many of my weekends and holidays from school, I would spend time with Sara and her husband, Moshe.  And sometimes we would go to see her in-laws.

Hillel was a scribe, a sofer.  He usually made the kosher scrolls that go into mezzuzot.  But for me, he made something special.  He made my ketubah.  He thought I was crazy to have him write out my ketubah in his perfect Hebrew print.  But in the USA it was the style to have a special ketubah made.  I did not want one from an artist.  I wanted one made by Hillel.

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My ketubah written by Hillel.

It still hangs in my dining room for all to see. Which is a good place to remember Hillel.

I had dinner in his house.  I ate at the dining table belonging to him and his wife. I went to the wedding of his youngest son, Avram, to the lovely Leah.  I was always welcomed.

But the Hillel I knew was an older man, in his 60s.  The photo of the young man did not look like the Hillel I knew. But it did look like was my cousin’s husband and his brother.

I commented on the post that I thought this was the father-in-law of my cousin.  Someone had already found Hillel’s grave in Israel and had reached out to the son.  But I knew that my connection would get results.

Since I knew that they would not see the post on Tracing the Tribe, I shared the post on my Facebook and tagged Hillel’s two granddaughters who were also related to me.  I also wrote to them on our family What’s Ap.  It started an avalanche of comments.  Yes, it was their grandfather.  Their first cousins from their Dad’s side started commenting.  My post was filled with comments from their cousins.  They were stunned, amazed and in disbelief.  Comments focused on how crazy and amazing this was to them!

One of the granddaughters, my cousin, joined Tracing the Tribe, so she could comment directly onto the original post.  She posted additional pictures of her grandparents and her parents.

I am glad that I was able to facilitate some of the contact.  I am glad that the passport will be returned to Avram, the only surviving son.

I was so shocked and amazed that someone I knew was the object of a quest in Tracing the Tribe.  But amazing things have occurred before. Through this group I have met distant cousins who have helped me in my genealogy search.  I have had so many people help translate Polish, Yiddish, German for me.   I connected with Schelly, whose grandparents were best friends with my grandparents, and so we share stories as well.

For the past two days I have been rereading the post and the comments people have made.  I thank Esther for reaching out to find Hillel’s family.  And I thank all the members of Tracing the Tribe who have helped so many people connect, understand, discover and learn.

 

 

(I know that someone is wanting to write an article about this, so I am not posting any photos other than my ketubah.  I just wanted to write about how I felt throughout this experience and how I appreciate Tracing the Tribe.)

Another Photo, Another Trip to the Yad V’Shem Database

26 Sep

Since I recently returned from a trip to the Baltics, and actually used my school-girl German,  I decided I needed to open my Grandma’s album and continue my search.  I chose a photo with German writing, since I could translate that.

The note was written to my grandma, from her cousin.  “For my cousin, Tauba.  I send my ‘Bilck” (I think that means image).    Dated August 22, 1931, from Wieruszow, a city I have written about before, you can read about it in the blog below.

I had a difficult time figuring out his name.  I knew the Anshel/Anssel.   But the last name stymied me.  So once again thank you to the Tracing The Tribe group, who gave me the last name Eisner.   It opened the door on the Yad VShem Database.

Anshel Eisner, who was born in 1906, was murdered in the Shoah.  The year 1906 hurt my heart, as that is the same year that my grandmother was born. 

His parents, Moses Aron Eisner and Rivka Manes, were married in 1898. His mother and my great grandmother were sisters. I image they were happy to be pregnant at the same time. (Thank you Elzbieta from Tracing the Tribe).

He is probably one of the many cousins that she told me about…that she played with at her grandmother’s house.

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He looks a bit like her own brothers.  So much so that I will now look at group photos to see if I can find him.  And I think I found him standing on the far right of this photo that includes my great uncle, who is seated on the left. (See blog below.)

Anshel was married to Liba/Libka.  I could not find her on the data base.   But it said that Anshel was a merchant and died when he was 32 years old.  1942. That was a big year for murdering my family.

His testimony was prepared by his uncle Yitzchak/Isaac Ajzner/Eisner.  I did an advanced search and found that Yizchak prepared testimonies for 54 people who were murdered in the Shoah, including his parents, his siblings, his nieces and nephews and cousins.  He also included friends who perished. These people came from Wieruszow, Lodz, other cities in Poland and Czechoslovakia.

I assume that not all 54 are related to me.  But I take them to my heart.  I add them to the hundreds I already mourn for who perished.  I think of the many cousins I should have in my family who are gone and forgotten and who names have disappeared into the whispers of the past.

Each photo I find that leads to the database breaks my heart a bit. But then, in my heart, I thank my Grandma for saving all these photos.  For keeping their memories alive in a book hidden in the attic for me to find and rediscover and remember.

Baruck Dayan HaEmet.  May their memories be a blessing.  I hope I help them live though my blog.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/20/viroshov-wieruszow-a-jewish-community-destroyed/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2019/06/17/my-obsession-with-grandmas-album-leads-to-the-shoah/

 

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

 

A Fairy Tale Country, Estonia

21 Sep

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Spending a day in Tallinn, Estonia, was like being inside a fairy tale country.  I loved the old city with its quaint streets, towers and churches.  Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it deserves that status.  But more than then the look of the country was the feel of the country.

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The tower is called Tall Hermann

I love that they name their towers and weather vanes.  I love the magical feel of the old city and its cobblestone walkways.

Behind the beauty, Estonia has had its hardships.  Torn between two powers who wanted their ports on the Baltic Sea and its resources, both Germany and Russia/Soviet Union invaded Estonia many times over the years.  But in 1939 the worst happened when Hitler and Stalin signed a treaty dividing Estonia between the two and the two powers invaded Estonia from different sides of the country.

Our tour guide in Tallinn, a lovely young woman, told us that this was the worst.  People were torn between choosing between two evils.  And the Soviet Union proved to be a great evil, taking over the country and killing or deporting all the political and business leaders.

The only positive I see from this however, is this occupation saved the majority of Estonia’s Jewish population, which was about 4000 before the start of World War Two. By then end of the war, about 1000 of Estonia’s Jewish residents were murdered in the Shoah. The others had escaped into the Soviet Union and so survived. After the war, 1500 Jewish residents returned.

After World War 2, Estonia entered a 50-year occupation by the Soviet Union. Estonia was terrorized.  Our guide explained how all access to the Baltic Sea were closed by the Soviets, who put military bases there. People could not get out.  Help could not get in. She explained life as lived by her parents and grandparents.  It was not a happy time.

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A statue of Ernesaks overlooks the Song Festival Grounds.

 

But in Estonia, they came up with their own way of revolution that did not included guns or violence. The Singing Revolution started with the singing of the national song, “Land of My Fathers, Land That I Love.”  For years they sang this song in rebellion against Soviet rule.  Gustav Ernesaks, the “Father of Song” for the country who helped start the song festival movement, helped in this non-violent rebellion. The singing events were held on the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds.

The Singing Revolution lasted four years. Multiple songs and citizens singing saved Estonia!  Tallinn is also known for the large chain of people, over two million, that spanned from Tallinn to Vilinius in August 1989.  Singing songs and then slowly moving forward with small steps of rebellion and independence worked. By 1991, Estonia gained its independence.

Along with the freedom for all Estonians, came renewed freedom for its Jewish residents after 1991.  In 2007 a synagogue opened.  Today about 2000 Jewish residents live in Estonia. It is a small but secure population.  According to our tour guide and to what I have read, the Jewish population lives in comfort and without any issues thanks to a law that protects all minorities in Estonia.  There is a synagogue, a Jewish Day School, a Jewish Museum and a Jewish Community Center. I wish I could say that I visited all these Jewish sites, but I did not.  I wish I had researched Tallinn before I went. So I put links below to the Jewish sites of Tallinn.

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I loved my day in Tallinn.  Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site was a lovely experience.  Somehow, it seemed appropriate and joyful, to see a bride.

 

https://www.ejc.ee/templates/articlecco_cdo/aid/304672/jewish/History.htm

https://muuseum.jewish.ee/

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.

 (Thank you to a resident of the area who was kind enough to contact me and tell me that there are about 800 Jewish residents of Lubeck and 5000 in Hamburg.)

 

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