Tag Archives: Tracing the Tribe

Zysel/Ziesel Feuer, Survivor

1 May

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.





It is a GRAVE Matter…Really

6 Jan


My parents and grandparents are all together.

Over the years I have avoided one important part of my estate planning.  Buying a gravesite for my husband and for me.

I know this is important. But the thought of buying a grave made me sad.  I do not know why. My parents planned ahead. They purchased their graves as part of a family plot in New Jersey. In this same shared area rest all four of my grandparents, my parents and my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.  When I was a child, no one was buried there. Unfortunately, now all but one of the assigned graves are now filled. 

At the time the graves were purchased, only my two uncles’ names were placed on the contract, as the cemetery would not allow  three names to be on it.  This left my father out. It was not a big deal until my mom died, and we found out that we had no authority to open her grave.  Same thing with my dad.  Luckily we are a close family and my cousins immediately did all that needed to be done. In fact my one cousin went out of his way to help all the cousins as he not only arranged for us to purchase perpetual care for the graves, he has also kept close watch on the care.  When we suffered the loss of our parents and his mother within a year, it was this cousin who made sure the that all three stones were placed properly. We are so thankful for his concern. As we suffered multiple losses that year.

Every year when I go back east, my sister and I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Besides visiting all of our relatives, we take a short stroll to the resting place of my cousin’s other grandparents and relatives.  They are all so close together.  Remembering to bring the correct number of stones, is the hardest part.

Across from our parents, my sister and brother have a resting spot that includes their spouses. Unfortunately one grave is already occupied.   In fact it was this death about five years ago that started my quest and my inquiries about cemeteries.  But it has not been easy for me.

It was convenient for my siblings to buy for all of them as they  live in New Jersey.  But for me it is different.  My husband is from Missouri, and we live in Kansas. We have no family here.  Our daughter lives out of the country. And though our son lives near us now, who knows where he will end up.  So we have been indecisive about what to do.

Where should we eventually be buried?  OY! The best was to ignore this nagging and difficult choice.

This fall one of my close friends, a walking buddy, spent an entire walk telling me about the arrangements she and her husband recently made for their final home.  She also wanted to be sure her children would have no worries. The decision is made and paid for in advance.  It made me start thinking about our grave matter once again.

To be honest my husband does not care where we end up.  “When we are dead we are dead,” he says. “It won’t matter to us at all.”   But I think it will matter to our children if they do not have to worry about this decision in the midst of emotional turmoil.  It is hard enough when a parent dies without having to make this decision as well.  I knew my obsession had to be dealt with when I found myself reading the cemetery plot ads in the Jewish Forward.  That was a bit too much even for me.

As I am interested in genealogy, it was important to me that  our descendants  to be able to find us. I have seen the joy of discovery as people find the graves of their grandparents, great grandparents and even further back. It is so wonderful to have these in one place. So even though we belong to two synagogues, and we could buy plots in their cemeteries,  I do not want to be alone, away from everyone. It might be crazy, but that is how I feel.

The issue came to a head this past November, when my husband’s stepmother died.  She always planned to be buried on one side of my husband’s dad.  He and his first wife, my husband’s mother, are already buried there, as well as my husband’s grandparents. But things did not go as plannned.  Even though there are four empty graves in the plot, my father in law had never designated her to be buried there.  And with my father in law and his brother both deceased, the four plots are owned by the five adults in the next generation.  Since we are out of contact with my husband’s cousins, we were not allowed to bury her in this grave. It made for a tense few days. But the cemetery’s executive director would not  allow it.  (We assume the cemetery must have had lawsuits in the past over similar issues! )

No matter,  she had to be buried in a different cemertary.   But at least it was with her family. A cousin of hers who had purchased multiple plots donated one to her.   I was glad she was not alone.

This situation, the days of trying to figure out what would happen, increased my determination that our children should not have to deal with the issue of a grave site.  I was so upset. I do not want my children worrying about where to bury me. I want it settled.

But now I had a plan.  It is stupid for us to go to New Jersey especially since there are four perfectly good plots in St. Louis.   I am on a mission.  I am working with the cemetery to track down my husband’s first cousins.  It seems we are all joint owners of these four graves. I want two of these plots. It is stupid for them to stay empty when they can be used.

Even the woman I am working with at the cemetery agrees it is foolish to leave them unused.  But she says it happens often. Families drift apart and move away.  The original owner is long dead.  And the ownership continues to pass on to the next generation involving more and more descendants. And the cemetery is stuck, unable to let anyone use the graves.

Well one thing I have learned through my interest in genealogy, and my great contacts on the “Tracing the Tribe Facebook” group, research.  The person at the cemetery told me she could not find my husband’s cousins.  I took that as a challenge.  Within 90 minutes I had their names, their spouses’ names and the names of their children.  I have sent that information on to the cemetery’s office for them to be contacted.  (My research did remind me that my father in law and his brother died just over a month apart.  Even though they had not spoken to each other in perhaps 25 years, they had this connection: One died two weeks before 9/11 and one three weeks after. )

I have another back up plan as well.  My sister in law in St. Louis also has a group plot with her brothers and parents. When I unloaded my stress over finding a grave, she told me that they had some extra plots.  “You probably could buy two plots from us, if that would make me feel better and calm you down,” she laughed as she made this suggestion.  But my loving niece understands.  She promised me that she would come to visit ” her crazy aunt” in St. Louis.

My new year’s resolution for 2017:  I am focusing on resolving this grave matter.   I hope to find my husband’s cousins and come to an agreement about the graves.  Or purchase two plots from my sister in law’s family.  It is my resolution to buy two graves…   NOT that I want to use them anytime soon.
Update: we have two graves with my sister in law and her family in the St Louis area. I am at peace. My children will have an easier time with this knowledge. 

At The Cemetery Visiting Those We Will Always Love

4 Aug

It has been over two years since we finally held the unveiling for my parents and brother in law. They died over a difficult 15 months. One funeral was more difficult than the next. In between my aunt passed away as well. Four new graves in a family plot.

The unveiling was emotional and miserable. Not just because we uncovered all three stones on the same day, but because it was held during a deluge of rain. The heavens were crying for us, as well as the over 80 people who showed up to remember our parents and my sister’s husband.

I have not been back to the cemetery since then. I live in Kansas. The cemetery, Beth El, is in New Jersey. I have not wanted to bug my sister about It when I was in town. But when I was in New Jersey this past March, I mentioned it. And she seems oaky.

Now I am back in New Jersey with my son to spend 12 days with my sister, niece, brother and other family members. We already spent a weekend at our Catskills home. It is filled with memories of our grandparents, parents and others. Over the weekend, I once again mentioned my desire to go to the cemetery.

My sister was fine. “Let’s not take the kids,” she suggested. I agreed.   They are in their early 20s. But I know that going to the cemetery is not something they want to do. It is still painful for them.

I meant to take stones from the Catskills back to New Jersey with us. But I forgot. In the last minutes as we were getting ready to leave, our children were impatient. I should have picked up some stones earlier, but we were busy visiting and just relaxing.

So this morning I went outside with a ziplock bag and searched for small stones around my sister’s home. Although my niece did not think I would be successful, I found enough stones. It is a Jewish custom to leave stones as remembrance on a grave, not flowers. And I needed at least 12 stones.

Our family plot includes all four of my grandparents, my parents, two sets of aunts and uncles, and another uncle. We are fortunate that my aunt is still alive. In fact we have plans to see her and some cousins in the City this week.

My brother in law is buried directly opposite my parents. My sister put the biggest stone on his grave. I had selected it for him, since it came from his house.

Then we turned and went to our grandparents. We went by couples, my sister putting a stone on one grave, while I put a stone on the other grave.  We read each name in English and Hebrew. We spoke about each of them, just a little remembrance: our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles.

For the first time I really focused on their Hebrew names, I have begun to realize how important graves are for those studying their family’s genealogy.  Especially since I had joined the group, Tracing the Tribe.  I realized that some had left off the Levy designation.  And one did not have the Hebrew name.  Would that lead to problems for future generations? Perhaps not, since they were all together.

I had a stone left. I had picked up 13. We knew just a short way down from this family plot was our cousins’ grandparents. So we walked to visit them as well. We stopped and put a stone on Grandma Rose’ grave, we read her name and remembered her. And although we did not have a stone for him, we read the name of Grandpa Asher. My sister did not remember him as she was only three when he passed away. So I told her something about him.

In the same plot are the graves of one of their son’s in laws. So we read their names as well, and I remembered them.

My sister does not remember Grandpa Asher and the other couple as well as I do. Three and half years in age makes a difference. But I felt it was important that all of their names be remembered.

After we were done, I took photos of all the graves. Do other people do that? Or is it a Jewish custom? I am not sure. But since I am so far away, I wanted this memory.   I am not sure when I will be at their resting place again.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, I started to cry, a little.  My sister admonished me.  “NO crying when we are driving.  If you cry I will cry.”  I stopped.  Driving and crying are not allowed.

So on our drive home we spoke about our great grandparents. Two perished in the Shoah. We have no idea where they are buried, or even if they were buried or burned. One died in Europe in the 1920s. Not sure if her grave still exists, so many were destroyed by the Nazis and the townspeople. Four are buried in the NYC area. We need to visit them at some time. We know were two are, thanks to our cousins. But the third and fourth we are not sure. And one we think is in Seattle, Washington.

I remember one of my great grandmothers. She passed away when I was not quite three. My sister is named for her.

We say in our tradition, “My His or Her Name Be a Blessing.” We name our children for those who passed before us. My brother, sister, cousins and I are all named for our great grandparents. Our children are named for the grandparents who are buried in the plot in New Jersey.

These are the graves of people who were blessings in my life, in my family’s life. I am glad we went to the cemetery this morning and remembered those we loved and still love. Those whom we will always love.