Tag Archives: holocaust survivors

Amazing What Information Two Photos Can Provide

26 Jun

It is a wonder how two photos that I did not know were related could help find a branch of the family that I had no information about.

I have a family album that we found hidden in the bottom of a closet in the attic of what had been my grandparent’s and then my parent’s home in Kauneonga Lake, NY.  We found it when we cleaned the house out about four years ago.  Most of the photos are from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s.  Many of the photos are unidentified.  But some have comments on the back written in one of many languages including, English, Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and German. (See blog below.)

Every few months I open the book and focus on a few of the photos.  It is an emotional task, as I find that many of these photos lead me back to the Shoah.  And often the people in the photos perished in concentration camps or were murdered near their homes.  I find it a bit terrifying.

About a year ago I posted a photo of two young girls on the Tracing the Tribe website.  No one translated that one for me.  I am not sure why.  It probably got posted on a busy day. As usually these short messages are translated in a few hours.

Then about a month ago I posted two identical photos of a young man, but each had a slightly different note on the back, written in German.  I wondered why German, although I knew that my grandmother could read and write German along with three other languages.

I knew that one of the photos of the young man and the photo of the two girls were sent to my grandmother, Tova/Thelma.  And I that the other one of the young man was sent to her aunt, my great aunt Gussie.  This lead me to write about the young man Abraham Prentki/Prantki.  (See blog post below.)

I assumed he had to be the son of one my great grandfather’s three sisters , Esther, Sura or Leba, who we really had no information about.

By some serendipitous decision, I was looking for another post on the Tracing the Tribe Group when I stumbled upon this photo of the young girls who had never been identified.  So I reposted it on Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestoy in Poland.   With in a few hours, I had a translation.  It was to my grandmother, their cousin.  There were names including the last name Granek. This postcard was also written in German.

My Tracing the Tribe friend, Amy, decided to search some more.  Thank you, Amy.  She found a Yad V’Shem testimony written by a Martha Granek Wynn, who wrote a page of testimony for her mother Cella Prentki Granek.   Cella’s parents were Esther Schenk and Pinkus Prentki and they lived in Breslau, Germany.  But originally came from Boleslaviec, Poland, where my grandmother grew up. Cella was murdered in Mauthausen.  The testimony is chilling.  In Place of death: it is written Mauthausen.  In circumstance of death, it is written: Oven.

The pieces were now coming together.  And although I cannot be one hundred percent certain.  This is what I know.  My great grandfather Shlomo Abraham had several sisters.  Gussie moved to the United States, where she married and had four children.  My grandmother moved in with Gussie and her family when she moved to the USA. (See two blogs below.). The postcards from the young man, Abraham Prentki were to his cousin Tova and his Aunt Gussie.  I assumed he had to be the son of Esther, Sura or Leba, my great grandfather’s sisters who we had no information on.  This leads me to believe that Abraham was the brother of Cella Prentki Granek who died at Mauthausen.  And that he was also the son of Esther Schenk Prentki.

Grandma Thelam, Carlsbad

My grandmother is sitting on the right.  Who are the other two women?

More information, we (my sister helps me with my research) know that my grandmother went back to Europe in 1931 with my mother and uncle. (see blog below.). We also know that she left the children behind with her father and then her in laws and went to Breslau to visit her family, her aunt, and go to the waters of Carlsbard/Karlsbard to heal.  The Prentki family lived in Breslau.

My sister says she agrees that this looks right. But we are not totally sure. On the page of testimony there is an address in Melbourne, Australia.  I found this address on line, in Australia.  I sent a letter to the woman who submitted the testimony about her mother, but not sure the family still lives there.  It was written in 1999, and Martha would be in her 90s now. She is probably one of the young girls in the photo.  I am hoping that some family members live there.

However, another connection.  After the war, my grandmother’s two brothers and their wives moved to Australia.  They were waiting for visas to get out of Europe and went when the first visa to Australia arrived.  They lived in Melbourne.  Coincidence?  Or did they move to be with other family who had escaped.  My mother’s first cousin is still alive. She was born in Melbourne in 1955 and now lives in Israel.  I have asked her if she knew this family. But she was a child when she left Australia.

We might never know the truth.  My sister is right,  we cannot be 100 percent sure.  But in my heart, I think these were the Grandchildren children of my great aunt Esther.  In my heart I believe that this was the family my grandmother visited in Breslau.  In my heart I think the mystery of these two photos is solved.  Still not sure about the photo from Karlsbard.

It is amazing what information two photos can lead to.  And that is why I keep going back to this album and searching.

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

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/04/the-mystery-of-abraham-prantki/

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

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

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

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. I now know his wife was Dvorah, my grandfather’s first cousin. The daughter of Zachariah. Ziesel entered her in the Yad VShem data base. But not his children.

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 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:

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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/

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.