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My Grandpa’s Voice Can Still Be Heard

15 May

On November 7, 1981, my cousin made a cassette tape of my grandfather singing his favorite songs in Yiddish.   It sat in my house for all these years. I could never listen to it after he passed away.  Grandpa had a wonderful singing voice and used to sing to us all the time in Yiddish.

Two months ago, I took the cassette tape to a company that turned it into a CD.  I got it back on Friday.  On Mothers’ Day, I listened to my Grandpa sing in Yiddish and listened to him speak about his life in Europe and coming to the United States in 1920.

He passed away in 1989, so it has been a long time since I heard his voice.  It was just as I remembered it.

Listening to this tape was interesting in many ways.  Most of the stories he told, I have heard before.  I had spoken to my Grandpa about his life in Europe many times.  I just never recorded him.  I am extremely grateful that my cousin made this tape.

He sang six songs.  Tumbaliaka, Hativah in Yiddish, Ofin Primpinchick,  Yiddisha Mama and two others I had not heard before.  He left out some I remember him singing. But it doesn’t matter. Hearing him sing these favorites is a gift.

Grandpa left his home in 1918.  He was the oldest of five children who lived on a 16-acre farm, that they owned, in Austria.  He said if he had stayed in Austria, he would have eventually had two acres for him and a place to build a house.  (I wrote about Grandpa leaving Europe in an earlier blog, see link below.)

When he first arrived in the USA, he lived with his uncle Morris and went to work as a butcher.  A farm boy, he knew about animals.  He worked for $4 a week.  He did not know English.  It was a job he did not like.  A month later, he switched to being a baker for $20 a week on Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn.  (I never knew the address in Brooklyn. ) He was lucky. He had relatives who were both a butcher and a baker.  And they provided him with jobs.

Grandpa was brought up to follow the rules of Shabbat, although they were not extremely religious. He had no beard or payos.  But when he first started working at the bakery, he had to light a fire on Shabbat.  “I sat there and cried,” he said, “because my Mother always told me that if I light a fire on Shabbat I would die.”   He did not die, so the following week he lit the fire without crying.

Grandpa excelled at baking.  But he said he was very bashful.  People would say to him, “Do you want to meet a girl,” and he would say yes.  But they did not work out.  Then, by accident, he met our Grandma in Brooklyn.  He went to deliver a gift to someone, and there she was.

“Before Thelma, I did not look for someone. But when Thelma came it was different.  Something drew me to her,” he said.  “I was 25, she was 18 or 19.  To look at, she was nothing.  But it is the person she was. Someone made for you.”  (I disagree. I think my young Grandma was lovely.)

They got married in September 1925 and lived in Brooklyn, till my uncle was born. Then Grandpa opened his own business in the Bronx, where they lived for five years. And my Mom was born. In 1929, they moved to Linden, New Jersey.  My grandparents opened a new bakery.

But they had it for only about 18 months.

My grandmother was ill.  Grandpa said she had to go back to Europe to see a Dr. Lapenski in Krakow.  He could help her.  She was sick from the fumes from the gas in WW1.  I honestly had never heard that story before.  (I wrote about her time in Europe in earlier blogs, see links below.)

When Grandma came back, they moved to West New York, New Jersey, and opened the bakery they would have for almost 30 years.

“I wanted my children to have a better life,” Grandpa said.  “My Mom did not know that I had to learn to read.  I worked on a farm.  I had no education.  My parents said, you know how to work in the field that is enough.  My Mom thought I would stay in Europe.  She did not know that I would leave.”

My cousin asked if he was afraid to come to the USA by himself.  He started to laugh.  He was not afraid.  “It could not be worse than where I was,” he said.  “It had to be better.”

He told us a bit about his younger siblings and his parents. But the main discussion was the fact that none of them survived.  “I could not convince them to come,” he said.

As for his wife’s parents, my other great grandparents, Grandpa said, “From the day I got married I had to support her family.”  Which is true. Her mother had died during WW1.  And her father, was an educated man.  He studied.  “His wife made a living for him,” my Grandpa said.  When she died, there was not much income.

The tape was made just over three months after my grandmother died.   It was strange to hear Grandpa say her name.  He never said it when she was alive, to keep the evil eye from getting her.  He was still in deep mourning.  They had always thought he would die first as he was six years older.  But instead she died.

“You struggle and you pay for those things you did,” Grandpa said.  “Maybe I did something wrong.”  This was his explanation on why she died before him.  It made me so sad to hear him say this.  I remember how desolate he was without her.  (See Autumn Leaves blog link below.)

My cousin asks questions. Some Grandpa answers.  But he made his point.  He loves his family.  “I accomplished my mission.  I would have my own home.  And I did more than that,” he said.  He got to see four of his five grandchildren marry.  He saw the arrival of six of his eight great grandchildren.

Before he ended the tape, he sang one last song.  He sang of traveling the world, always  wishing he could go home and kiss the stones where he was born.  My cousin asked if he would want to go back to Austria.

His answer, Yes and No. (Grandpa told me that he never wanted to go back there.)

Hearing my Grandpa talk about his family; his children, and his grandchildren was bittersweet.  I made CDs for my siblings and cousins.  I think they need to have this experience as well.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/06/25/how-world-war-i-saved-my-family-or-my-grandpa-was-a-draft-dodger/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/02/23/the-melody-of-autumn-leaves-haunts-me/

https://zicharonot.com/2017/12/04/the-us-passport-a-matter-of-life/

 

 

Zysel/Ziesel Feuer, Survivor

1 May
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The document that Scott G. shared with me.  Zysel is line 79.  I know that Lejzor Feuer, line 77,  was also a cousin.

I am thinking a lot about Zysel/Ziesel Feuer this week, a cousin of my grandfather’s who survived the Shoah.  This weekend another Tracing the Tribe member, Scott G. shared a document with me that lists the names of the survivors from Mielic, Galicia, Austria/Poland. And on that list is my relative: Zysel Feuer.  Even though I knew he was a survivor, seeing his name on that list just broke my heart.  I see him again in my mind, and I am sad.

Scott is working on a project to get all the names of survivors and victims of the Shoah from Mielic, Austria/Poland. I contacted him with the names I could share.  My grandfather’s entire family except for a few cousins died. The last names Amsterdam, Feuer, Brenner and Hollander were all in some way related to me.  And many perished.

I have written about Ziesel before.  He went to Israel after the war.  And lived there until his death.  I met him when I went to Israel for my sophomore year of college in 1974.  I would visit him in Tel Aviv, whenever I went there from Jerusalem where I was studying.  I first met him because my grandmother sent me on a mission.  I wrote about that in an earlier blog (see link below).

When my parents came to visit, during my winter break, I took them to see Ziesel as well.  His roommate, also a Holocaust survivor, was home when we arrived.  With no phones it was difficult to make definite appointments.  His roommate told us that Ziesel was at shul davening and we should go and call for him.  My Dad was embarrassed.  So, the man went with us.
“Ziesel, Ziesel Feuer,” he called through the doorway.  “Come here, your family is here.”  Of course, he called for him in a loud Yiddish/Hebrew whisper.  “Ziesel, Ziesel, comen ous, eir mishpacha du.”

My Dad told that story for years.  Standing outside a small shul in Tel Aviv, watching the elderly men daven. And having this embarrassing moment.  I however, was not embarrassed.  Not me, six months in to living in Israel in 1974-75 and nothing surprised me anymore.  Having to call someone out of services was no big deal.  I knew he wanted to see my parents. We had discussed their visit when I last saw him, and I promised to bring them to his apartment. He was especially looking forward to seeing my mother.

Ziesel left services as soon as he saw us.   We all walked back to the apartment.  Dad and Ziesel speaking Yiddish. Mom adding a comment or two.  They spoke about the Shoah and what had happened to him. And my mother cried. I do remember how happy he was that we came to visit him.  We had cake and tea, and then we left. For my mother it was especially difficult.

Ziesel lost his family in the Shoah.  His wife and children were murdered.  He could no longer have any other children. He told me that the Nazis did terrible things to him.  He did not remarry.  When I met him, he was working in a bakery across from the shuk in Tel Aviv.

Now I wish I could go back in time to my 19-year-old self, and say, “Ask more questions!  What did he do when he got to Israel.   How did he get there?  Ask more, be more interested.” But I was just 19. Whenever I saw him, he would mainly ask me how I was doing.  He was more interested in me, than I realized at the time.  I gave him family for a year.

I do know that it was  Zysel/Ziesel  who contacted my grandfather after the war.  It was Ziesel who told him that everyone had died.  My grandfather only had four cousins who survived.  Ziesel and one other are on this list.  The other I did not know well. But Ziesel was part of my life.  Although I have no photos of him, I really do not need one. He looked so much like my grandfather. They could have been brothers, not cousins.

In 1976 I took my grandma to Israel to see her brother and her family. (See link below.) She also went to see Ziesel.  That was a different type of meeting.  Ziesel had stolen something from her in 1931.  My original contact with Ziesel had to do with him paying off that debt. Their meeting was more an acknowledgement of the debt being paid and the past released. I think he felt relief after speaking to my grandma.

I was not a part of their conversation. That was the last time I saw Ziesel.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/07/06/a-strand-of-pearls-is-not-just-jewelry-it-is-a-circle-of-love/

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

 

The Shoah Impacts My DNA Relatives

24 Apr

Today I went on my 23 and Me account to access some information.  I manage both my account and that of my now deceased father, since I am the one who had him provide a sample about six months before he passed away.  I am so glad I did that.  It has provided me with my father’s Y chromosome information, which I otherwise would not have had.

I have over 1100 relatives on 23 and Me.  Most are third or distant cousins.  But today I had a revelation.  An unhappy one I must say.  There are 49 pages of relatives.  I just started scanning them.  And page after page after page, I kept seeing the same words, “on your father’s side,” after every entry.  Over and over again, not a single relative from my mother’s side. NO close relatives.  No distant relatives.

I started to cry.

Then I finally found ONE.  One distant relative. One.  I know that there were cousins who survived the Shoah. Not many.  And there were a few relatives already here in the USA. But I guess they are not on 23 and Me.  But in reality, most of my mother’s relatives perished.  She had one aunt and two uncles who survived. But among them, they only had two living children.  I know them well.   They also had descendants, I am happy to report.  Some live here in the USA, others in Israel.

But all those distant relatives are GONE.  Those distant relatives who share bits of my Dad’s and my DNA are welcome. But the missing ones from my mother’s side are so obviously a result of the Shoah that it reminds me of the horror of the loss.  I should have an equal number of distant relatives from my mother.  Instead of 1100 people, there should be 2200 people who share a bit of my DNA.

I am feeling a sense of loss I have not felt before.  Maybe because I am working on an article about my grandparents’ survival story.  So I am already feeling the dread of reliving their sorrow over their family’s loss.  But this was a blatant reminder that my family really is not like every other.

The US Passport: A Matter of Life

4 Dec

I recently saw the documentary, “Big Sonia,” about a local Kansas City area woman who survived the Holocaust and three concentration camps from ages 13 to 19; how she and her husband started their own tailor shop; how the tailor shop became an important part of her life; and how the Holocaust impacted her life, her family and those around her.  Although I do not know Sonia, I do know her sister-in-law, who belongs to my congregation.

Both Sonia and Ann are contemporaries of my Mom.  And when I hear of their Holocaust survival story, I cannot help but think, “there for the grace of G-d, could have been my Mom.” But she would have just been 10 when the horrors really began, and she might not have survived.  It stabs at my heart.  Here is why:

img_5529

When I look at the smiling children in the 1931 passport, I feel fear in my heart.  They are my Mom and my Uncle.  My grandmother is getting ready to take them to Poland.

In 1931, most Jews in Poland and Europe were not yet concerned about escaping. Although Hitler’s rise to power was advancing, he did not become chancellor of Germany until January 1933.  Thus, I guess in some ways, my Grandmother was not afraid to take her two small children, my Uncle, who was 4 ½, and my Mom, who was 2 1/2, to Europe to stay with family while she tried to regain her health.

Boat to Europe 1931

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;  behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

I always knew this had occurred. I have seen the photo taken of my Mom and Uncle on the ship to Europe. I knew that my grandmother almost died aboard the ship on the way to Europe. I have seen several photos of my grandmother in Kalsbadt and with family members during that trip.

Both their visa and Passport were issued on May 18, 1931.  I think their visa was good until May 18, 1932.  This part of the Visa is in German. Since my Grandfather’s family lived in the area of Galicia which was then Austria, it makes sense. They arrived in Europe on May 26, 1931.

I heard the stories of my Mom and Uncle coming back from Europe only speaking Yiddish. Their English left them while they spent six months with their paternal grandparents.  This would not happen again, as these grandparents perished in the Shoah.

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This registers my uncle and mom as living in Boleslawiec.

But now that I have the Passport, and have had part of it translated,  I know that this story is not totally true.  They spent at least two and half months in Boleslawiec, Poland,  from August 14 to October 3, 1931.  This is where my Grandmother was born.  They spent at least that time staying with their maternal grandfather and his children. That was a surprise.

So at some point, my Grandmother traveled across Europe with two small children, going from Mielic, Galicia, Austria, to Boleslawiec, Poland.  WOW.  I wonder how the trains were then.  I am sure she went with her American dollars and was able to travel easily.  But the idea of them on a train in Austria and Poland sends shivers through my body.  I can so easily image the other members of my family who traveled on much less kind trains a number of years later to their deaths in the concentration camps.

I also knew it was this trip and her visits to the mineral waters of Kalsbadt that saved and cured my grandmother.  Her experiences in Europe over these months also made her resolute to get as many family members out of Europe that she could.  Unfortunately, she was only successful in rescuing her father and sister.  Her in laws refused to leave, and they perished.

However, until I held the Passport that jointly named my Uncle and Mom as USA citizens and saw the visas, I somehow did not quite fathom the enormous consequences.   This passport was only valid for two years. What if they had been stuck in Europe? I had asked my grandfather when I was younger what he would have done if Grandma died in Europe.  He assured me that he was not going to leave his children in Europe.  He let her go because she was ill, but his children would return to the USA.

That always made me feel better, as the family they stayed with, my grandfather’s family, all perished.  I always believed that Grandma took the children to her in-laws and traveled by herself.  But that is not true.  She also took them to see her father and siblings as well. And miraculously my Grandmother’s two brothers and their wives survived even though Grandma could not get them out of Poland.

The Passport was originally made out only for my Uncle in May 1931.   I found that strange.  Was my Grandmother going to leave my 2-year-old mother with my grandfather in the States, while she traveled with my Uncle?  What changed her mind? I will never know that story. I found the Passport long after my grandmother had passed away.

I do know that they came home.  They arrived back in the USA on October 13, 1931. I can see the US Immigration stamp. The trip itself took a week or so crossing the Atlantic.  They grew up in New Jersey.  They married. They had children and grandchildren. Their memories of Europe faded quickly.  Perhaps my Uncle remembered more, but for my Mom it was just stories she heard.

My Mom did not go through the horrors and Hell that Big Sonia experienced.   Her American Passport and visa and ticket to return saved her and my uncle.  In 1936 Mom went with my Grandmother to Ellis Island to gather my great grandfather and Tante (great aunt).  My Grandmother was successful in saving them.

Not everyone had a life saving Passport. I often think of those who perished.   I still remember the day I found out about the Holocaust.  I cannot forget.

With the vitriol and anti-Semitic language and acts of bullying throughout the country, I think it is important that no one forgets.  Everyone should go and see “Big Sonia” and learn about real courage, and the horrible consequences of baseless hatred and bigotry.

Thank you to members of the Facebook Groups: Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland for the translations.

http://www.bigsonia.com

https://www.facebook.com/bigsoniamovie/?fref=mentions

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

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

We Toured An Exbibit of Judith Lieber Handbags in Memory of Our Mom

27 Jul

I am a very sentimental person, I admit it. My sister is as well. So when I saw there would be an exhibit  of Judith Lieber handbags at the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC when I was there this summer, I knew we had to go.


Our Mom loved pocketbooks, as we call them back East. She had a large collection of stunning bags, which we divided among her granddaughters, daughters and daughter in law when she passed away. Each purse was a beloved friend kept safe in its cloth covering.

Mom loved to shop for pocketbooks and shoes. Every shopping adventure ended up at a shoe store. In her closet were dozens of pairs of shoes stored in neat see-through boxes, along with the carefully stored purses.

My daughter, brought up in the Midwest, learned her love of purses from my Mom. In the Midwest we call them purses, while in New Jersey the same item was a pocketbook. My daughter came up with a new word, a ‘pocket purse’, to describe the carryall held by almost all women.  As a child she would proudly walk with my Mom, each holding their own ‘pocket purse.’

One of my favorites at the exhibit.

So going to see Judith Lieber’s designs seemed apropos. As we walked through the exhibit, delighted to see the crystal evening minaudieres, the leather creations, and letters from former First Ladies, we remembered buying purses that were inspired by Lieber designs. We wished we could have owned an original. I wished my Mom could have had at least one. She would have cherished it.

Reading a time line of Lieber’s life in Hungary before and during the Second World War, we were impressed at how she found a career she loved and was able to flourish a bit even in times of terror.  I was glad that her love of an American soldier brought her safety and that he too was an artist.

Each piece in the exhibit made us pause and remember our Mom, while thinking of the creativity and imagination of Lieber.  We had a wonderful imagining owning one of these and choosing which ones were our favorites.

 

Update:  In November I was able to purchase a pair of Judith Lieber sunglasses at a charity auction.   In April, she and her husband Gerson died hours apart.  May their names be a blessing.

Cruise Conversations That Linger In My Heart

6 Apr

When I travel I have learned to expect the unexpected.  You never know who you will meet or what will occur.  The best is to be flexible.  But occasionally you meet someone who makes an impression.

The first time this happened was on a cruise over 25 years ago.    At lunch time, on a cruise, you get to sit with many different people.  You never know who you will meet or what you will talk about.  On the second day of this Caribbean cruise, we ate lunch with an older man, who when he reached across the table,  I saw numbers tattooed on his arm, numbers obviously from Nazi days.

I said nothing.  I remember as a child, in the early 1960s, I saw numbers on the arm of my parent’s friend.   I asked the question, “Why do you have numbers?”  The room grew silent, and I was taken from the room and told never to ask that question again.  It wasn’t until I was much older I understood that  in the early 60s people did not talk about the numbers.

But this was the early 1990s and I was no longer a child.  Since we were seated next to each other, I waited.   When most of the people left, I asked.  I had the most interesting conversation.  The man next to me was a retired priest.  He was on board to hold services.   He had been in the camps as a young man because he and his parents resisted the Nazis and were part of the intelligentsia and were ardent Catholics.  He and I had several conversations over the week-long cruise. We spoke about his experiences and the death of my grandfather’s family in the Shoah. Although I have forgotten his name,  I have never forgotten him.

But when we went on a cruise this past March, I did not think I would meet another survivor. So many years have passed, and among those survivors who are still alive, few still travel.   At lunch one day, I found my husband speaking to a much older couple.  The man was obviously elderly and perhaps recovering from an illness.  But he spoke strongly with a distinct British accent and he had a much different life experience.

His story touched my heart.  He and his brother were sent away from his home in Germany on a Kindertransport to England when he was 14.  He was one of the lucky ones.  His parents survived as well!   “We had a wonderful life in Germany,” he told us.  “We were more German than Jewish.”

But of course that did not help.  His parents were quite wealthy and aware enough to start the search for visas and relief early on.

When he turned 18, he enlisted in the US army and was sent to the United States.  His service helped him become an American citizen, because until then he was a man without a state.  While in the USA, just before he left for Germany, he became a US citizen.  His commanding officer advised him to change his name from Adolf and the very Jewish last name to something less Jewish sounding.

“If they capture you in Germany with that name, they will not keep you as a prisoner, they will kill you,” his commander told him.  Since he was getting citizenship he should change his name now.  So while he traveled to court he kept thinking of a good name.  He decided on Ralph for his first name.  For his  privacy I will not relate his last name.  He did go to Germany and was a translator for the Army during the closing days of the war and afterwards.

I have read about the Kindertransports and heard speakers discuss these train rides to freedom,, but I never actually met someone and had an informal conversation with someone who survived through this path.

Although I have read many books about the Shoah and spoken to many survivors, these two men will remain in my memory. My conversations with them linger in my heart.

What Happened To Karola?

27 Feb

I am still finding clues about my grandmother’s family in the old photo album we found hidden in the attic. Many of the photos might remain mysteries. As they have no caption or notations. But as I slowly go through them, I sometimes find a photo with a message on the back.

In February,  I was showing the album to a visiting cousin, when I flipped over the photo of a young woman. I was surprised to see it had a note on the back in Polish. I could understand a bit. It was to her cousin Thelma (my grandma). It had a date, June 6, 1946. And it had a place, Kielce.  I was glad that I had finally found a photo from after the war. I thought that finally I had found someone who survived. I had thought the book was hidden because it was filled with those who perished.

The back of the photo.

Karola in June 1946.

I posted the photo on the “Tracing the Tribe,” Facebook group to get a translation of the back. It was dedicated to my grandmother. “To my sincere/honest and devoted cousin Thelma from Karola. I knew they were related because Karola looks so much like my grandmother. I assume they are first cousins.

My Grandma Thelma summer 1942.

The rest of the inscription reads, “Kielce, June 6, 1946. “.  And that opened up a new issue. Someone wrote, “Do you realize that this is dated from Kielce less than ONE MONTH before the pogrom in which 42 Jews — pretty much all Holocaust survivors — were massacred in the local community center? Did your relative survive that horrible event.”

I Don’t know if she survived!

I started investigating Kielce.  On July 4, 1946, there was a pogrom against the approximately 200 Jewish survivors of the camps who had moved back to Kielce. They were a tiny percentage of what once was a thriving Jewish community.

Of those 200, 42 were killed and 40 were injured.  This event started when a young boy told his father he was late because Jews locked him in a basement. It was a lie. But started a blood libel event. Polish police and soldiers participated. On July 14 nine Poles were executed for their role in this horrible massacre. Because of this event,  Polish Jews who survived knew they had to leave Poland. It would never be a safe haven. And a mass exodus began.

But what about my cousin?  I tried finding her name on any lists. But I do not know her surname.  I do not remember ever meeting her in the US, although I met most of my grandparents’ relatives. There were so few.  I had not met her in Israel when I took my grandma there in 1976.  I met many relatives then. (See previous blog: Speaking Yiddish Always Brings Holocaust Memories).  I sent the photo to a cousin in Israel. Although we are just a month apart in age, she is a generation above me. My mothers first cousin. And her parents survived the war by fleeing to a Russia. She knew the family who survived and moved to Israel. She also has a picture of Karola, but knows nothing about her.  

So I am beginning to think she perished. Which breaks my heart. Did she send the photos to relatives in an effort to get out of Europe?  What was happening? Was she alone?  I need answers. 

I could not let my search end there. I have contacted a distant cousin who I met through Tracing the Tribe. He is a much more experienced researcher than I. I hope he will be able to bring me closure about cousin Karola.

In the meantime I also continue to search for her. But I also continue to learn about the political and social anti-Semitism that led to this horrendous event and its aftermath.

UPDATE:  Karola lived: From another cousin who read the blog I found out this information:  “Karola lived in Paris with her husband and beautiful daughter. They visited us for a few days when I was a teen. My mother kept in touch for many years, the daughter also came to NYC and stayed and then they seemed to lose contact.” Wrote my cousin. 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kielce_pogrom

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