Friday, March 6, 2009

Jewish identity in a digital age

"Jewish identity in a digital age", through Lukasz, David, me, and some people new to this blog. Written by Britt Aharoni, Natalia Halec, Michelle Higgins, Natasha Marar and Shobhita Sharma, students in the MA Journalism Program at the University of Western Ontario, published at
Jewish identity in a digital age
By Shobhita Sharma Natasha Marar Natalia Halec Michelle Higgins Britt Aharoni
| March 5, 2009

Lukasz Biedka is a psychologist, author and researcher of history and Jewish genealogy. He is also a contributor to the Jewish blog, Przemysl. For 15 years, he has been part of a team of psychotherapists who work with Holocaust survivors and the second generation in Poland.

He knows many stories of people who discovered their Jewish roots late in life. Usually, they came from mixed marriages or had survived the Holocaust as children, and were raised by Christian families. What stood out for him about Roma Baran's story, featured on the Przemysl blog, wasn't just the lifetime of secrecy.

"I never heard of such a story that someone was living in America, where both parents were Jewish and they did not identify themselves with the Jewish world. This was something special," he says.

Family secrecy is an issue that comes up often in his psychotherapy sessions with children and family members of Holocaust survivors. In Poland, it is typical for children to first learn of their Jewish roots at the age of 12 or 13, he says. That is when the children are considered mature enough to keep the secret from going outside of the family. That is when his mother told him.

"People are hiding here," he says. "The Jews are. They do not share their identity outside. And it's part of the problem that belongs to the survivors and the second-generation."

Biedka's mother discovered she was Jewish a year after the war ended, at the age of 14. She was born in Warsaw and survived the war in Siberia with her father. Her parents were both from Przemysl.

Biedka has become an expert on the Jewish from Przemysl -- collecting things like databases, memories, testimonies, documents and photos and connecting with people online to help piece together a shared history.

He's like a human database. Years of research has enabled him to associate the names of people and places and to recollect details and make connections.

Soon after he met Baran on the Przemysl Blog, he realized that he knew a man who hid in the same place as her father during the Holocaust. He knew this man from testimonies he was collecting for research on the ghetto in Przemysl. He confirmed it with the man, now in his eighties and living in Israel. The man had known Roma's father during and after the war, and Biedka put Baran in touch with him so she could get to know another side of her father.

But Baran isn't the only one who has reconnected with her past because of Biedka. He says he's helped people trace their genealogy on several occasions, usually starting with the Internet.

"It's their access to the databases that are online," he says. "You can contact people all over the world who search for a certain place or a certain name. This is the power the Internet has, that one can associate the facts more quickly."

Jewish genealogy sites are an empire, he says.

Searching, he says, is a Jewish speciality, especially in countries like Poland, where much of the now fragmented Jewish population has few close relatives.

"It's not like American-Jewish families, with five generations living a normal life untouched by the (Holocaust)," he says. Jews here have no families, they have no grandparents, they have no cousins ... they are trying to rebuild the whole network. So the distant cousins from across the globe in Latin America, in Australia, become close relatives."

When someone is searching for her Jewish ancestors, especially from a culture of secrecy or in light of a recent discovery, it's more dramatic than just curiosity, says Biedka. It's searching for identity.

The bigger the mystery the larger the quest for meaning -- and it's a puzzle Roma's still working on. "I don't think we have an answer, not yet. We'll find it," says Biedka. "Every week we learn something new."

Discovering a Jewish past in the digital age

Roma Baran celebrated Christmas 60 times before she found out she was Jewish.

This August, Baran, 61, received an e-mail from a genealogist making references to her Jewish past, a past she was unaware of.

The e-mail struck her. She had been told as a child she had no extended family, let alone one that was Jewish. Her father had told her that her extended family had died during the war, and that non-Jewish Polish civilians who lived in the Warsaw ghetto were killed.

In reality, Baran had left Poland with her parents in 1949. They travelled around Europe under alias names, and lived in abandoned military barracks in Israel before immigrating to Montreal when Baran was four years old. Although she never considered herself a Christian, Baran had been enrolled in a Protestant school where her parents had registered her as an Episcopalian Anglican.

Baran, now living in New York City, flew to Montreal and showed her uncle Zygmunt the e-mail.

"My uncle told me first about my father, and that was the one I had had a couple of suspicions about. I said to him, 'But not my mother,' and there was a pause, and that pause was so pregnant, and he said, 'Yup, your mother too.' And in that moment I just knew it all; I knew 100 per cent that I was a Jew, and he was a Jew, and it all kind of happened in a second."

Baran was surprised not so much at being Jewish, but at the great lengths that her family took to conceal their Jewish identity. "My mother carefully went through our photographs and took out anything that had to do with all these relatives, or that had anything to do with Jews or Israel," she said.

With this new knowledge, Baran began scouring the Internet for information about her past. She used websites such as JewishGen and Jewish Research International Poland.

"The first thing I did is start putting kind of random things into the Internet. I've never done any genealogical research," said Baran. "I would enter names into the Internet in all their variants and different spellings, and see what I came up with. Like one of my grandfathers, as I knew him was Joseph Karas. His real name was Bernard Kluger, and I started finding out about the Kluger family."

On JewishGen, Baran used their Jewish Family Finder tool to find a third cousin. "[My cousin] and I have been corresponding ever since and she's working on a giant Kluger family tree. It goes back to the 12th century, so it was great to be able to plug my stuff into her family tree -- all done on the Internet."

Baran discovered that her extended family had changed their surnames during the war. They went back to using their Jewish names when they lived in Israel, but adopted Christian names when they moved to Canada.

Baran recalled a time when she used the Internet to find out information about an old photo. The picture featured her as a child with her parents on a boat. She stumbled upon, and posted the photo on their forums. "I immediately got [a lot of] responses, 'Boom boom boom boom boom,' and by two or three responses they'd identified it as this SS Kedmah, which was the first ship to actually fly the Israeli flag. I looked up the SS Kedmah, and I found a whole bunch of stuff on the Kedma."

Baran's online research also led her to find out her mother had grown up in the Polish city Przemysl. She soon discovered the Jewish genealogical blog The blog, created by David Semmel, aims to bring together descendents of the Jewish people who were driven out of Przemysl during World War II.

Semmel visited Przemysl with his grandparents as a child, and was interested in learning more about his family's roots there. A tech-savvy Semmel thought using the Internet to help other people with their genealogical research was an obvious choice.

After learning about Baran's story, Semmel began helping her. He devoted so much of the Przemysl blog to her story that in November, he created a separate blog for Baran to post about her discoveries.

"The Roma (story) was interesting mostly because it's a very compelling human story when someone makes a discovery of that gravity so late in life," said Semmel. "I'm proud to just be a small part of (her discoveries). It's a great story."

For Semmel, genealogy is interesting because it is more than just who is related to whom. "What were these people actually like and what were their lives like?" he questioned. "What motivated them, and were they like me, were they not like me, were their kids like my kids?"

"Occasionally I get to make first time contacts between people who didn't know they knew each other or that their parents knew each other -- I love doing it," he said.

Semmel's interest in genealogy stems from his own research about his family. As in Baran's case, the Internet was instrumental in bringing Semmel into contact with his past.

Four years ago, Semmel got an email from a woman called Janet Metzger, who said she stumbled upon his website and realized she has the same last name as Semmel's grandmother. She said she lived in Miami, but her family is from Peru. Metzger realized her grandfather, Jacob Metzger, was a brother to Semmel's grandmother.

"That's an Internet story, if there ever was one."

"My grandmother, Fanny, died without knowing whatever happened to her brother. Because of the Internet, some 20 years after her passing, I get this e-mail from the clear blue and that story completely unravels. Now I have this family that lives in Lima, Peru," he said.

"I'm grateful that something like the Internet exists, and that we can kind of keep alive something that would die otherwise. (The Internet is) an opportunity to relive and make people's lives more full and complete and have a better sense of history," said Semmel.

Through his blog, Semmel helps people doing genealogical research to re-establish a Jewish identity once lost or unknown, as in Baran's case.

Baran, like so many others, is discovering a shared sense of belonging through the Internet. She is not only reconnecting with her blood relations, but also with the larger Jewish community. Jews refer to this community as mishpochah.

"It's like a sort of greater family, you know more than your biological family," she said. "People have just been enormously generous with their time and helping, whether for translating stuff or making contacts for me or letting me look at documents. [I've] definitely met a lot of interesting people already, most of them not in person, but I hope to meet them."

In December Baran travelled to Israel to visit two cousins, to see the place where she lived, and for the first time, to enter her familyís names at the Yed Vashem memorial for victims of the Holocaust.

Jewish outreach and the Internet

Donna Halper has been teaching Americans about Judaism for years. But she didn't know her teachings would reach around the world, to the Congo. And it was all thanks to the Internet.

"It has just made things possible that wouldn't have been possible in any other time in history other than the era of the Internet," said Halper, who teaches communications at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Two years ago, Halper read an article written by her friend, a journalist at The Washington Post. The article detailed the problems people were facing in the war-torn Congo.

"I read this story and read about all these poor kids that have no school to go to and people in refugee camps and there was something about the story that just bothered me," she said.

She said told her friend she wanted to help.

Halper got in touch with Fidel Bafilemba Bienda, a 37-year-old translator for English-speaking journalists in the Congo. Bienda and Halper began exchanging e-mails, and Halper found herself helping Bienda with everything from finding a job with the International Rescue Committeee, to sending his daughter, Cindy, to school.

The communication did not stop there. After months of emailing back and forth, Bienda asked Halper a question a different kind of question.

He asked her what religion she practices. "I am Jewish," Halper replied.

Bienda, a non-practicing Christian, expressed how he had always wanted to know about Judaism, and because he didn't know any Jewish people in Congo, his desire to learn about the religion remained unfulfilled.

"The fact that he became interested in Judaism is very surprising to me. I thought he was just saying that because he felt grateful that I helped his family," said Halper.

It was then that she told Bienda about the Abayudaya, a Jewish community in Uganda.

Halper encouraged Bienda to get in touch with the community. She also began sending him links to various websites for him to learn more about Judaism.

As freelance writer and author, Halper has been directing interested students to various websites about Judaism for many years.

"Thanks to the Internet [Bienda] has been able to e-mail other Jewish people of colour. They've been able to find out about Jewish philosophy in their native language, which is French," Halper said.

Halper sends journal and newspaper articles to Bienda over the Internet on a regular basis, so that he feels connected to the Jewish community in America. She is happy that the Internet has given him a chance to expand his knowledge about the subject. "It's making information available," she said.

Linking the Holocaust to the Internet and Jewish genealogy

Gary Mokotoff always knew he was Jewish, but he didn't always feel a connection to the Holocaust. His grandparents had come to the United States from Poland before World War II, and for Mokotoff, "the Holocaust was something that happened on the other side of the Atlantic.î"It didn't affect him -- or so he thought.

Then Mokotoff traced his roots back five generations, and from there he found 1,700 descendants of his great-great-great grandfather.

"Of those 1,700 people, about 400 of them were murdered in the Holocaust," he says. "When I saw the Mokotoff name in print, associated with the Holocaust, it upset me terribly."

Now an award-winning genealogist who specializes in Jewish genealogy, Mokotoff says his case is typical of Jewish people tracing their roots.

"Tragically, virtually every Jewish family has been impacted by the Holocaust," he says. "Every Jewish genealogist goes back as far as they can -- which is not more than seven, eight generations -- comes forward, and finds all the aunts and uncles, and the great aunts and uncles, and the great-great aunts and uncles. Suddenly, they find that a significant portion of their family was murdered in the Holocaust."

The Internet, Mokotoff says, is playing a significant role in helping Jews makes such discoveries about their family history.

Websites like, JewishGen and Yad Vashem allow people to search archives of historical data and communicate with other users on message boards.

"The Internet has cut down the amount of time that is necessary to find information by 90 per cent," Mokotoff says.

These days, Mokotoff says, he can access records without leaving his home or office. But when he first began to do genealogical research 25 years ago, he usually had to request information by mail or travel somewhere to find it. Even if documents were stored locally, it was at least a half-day effort to find them," he says.

Now, he describes the research process as "instantaneous."

For example, he says, before he had the World Wide Web at his fingertips, he had never managed to trace his paternal grandmother's family back in history. With the Internet, he traced them back to around the year 1800 in the space of an hour.

Mokotoff says the Internet is also helping Jews create a lasting record of family members lost in the Holocaust.

"There was an attempt to eradicate that they (Jews) ever existed," says Mokotoff. "The Germans destroyed Jewish records as well as Jewish people. What happens in Jewish genealogy is virtually every Jewish genealogist will say, 'The work I am doing is a memorial to the members of my family that were murdered in the Holocaust.'"

Mokotoff is among those genealogists. The record of his 1,700 relatives, he says, is "not just a bunch of names."

"I know the names of their parents and their great-grandparents, and exactly how they're related to me in the vast majority of the cases," he says. "My work perpetuates that they once existed."

Britt Aharoni, Natalia Halec, Michelle Higgins, Natasha Marar and Shobhita Sharma are students in the MA Journalism Program at the University of Western Ontario.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Home Sweet Hayarkon Street

December 13, 2008, evening.

After a full and thrilling day, I had one more stop to make. I learned that after my father was hired by a construction company in Israel, we moved from the Jaffa rooftop to an apartment on the beach in Tel Aviv. Uncle Ziggy and my grandparents continued to live on the roof.

My newly discovered cousin, Moishe Halperin, drew me a map to where the apartment had been. (Moishe's memory is incredible, only surpassed by his warmth.)

The cab drove me around the dark blocks til we found it. Deserted and out-of-place in its setting, the house sat just behind the US Embassy. Moishe remembered that the wood floors had beautiful rosette inlays. I strained for a whiff of memory - high ceilings? fresh flowers?

Afterward, I walked the easy distance to the wide beach. I took in the distinctive smell of the Mediterranean, the soft tan sand, the slow black waves rolling in. Here was where Peter the Giant Schnauzer vanished. Here was where my parents walked every day with him, then without him. Here was where I played and began my ife-long romance with salt water.

I struggled with the urge to take off my clothes and plunge in, settling instead for a handful of sand to take back with me.

Yoram weighs in:
Dear Roma

It's always a pleasure to hear from you and follow your amazing quest. I know this house in Hayarkon St. - it is very special... Everything here is back to normal (till next time.)

I know the house in Hayarkon St. only from the outside, since I have passed there many times. Actually I spent long hours in this neighborhood looking for a building shown in the background of a picture of my Grandparents (he was Kammerman from Przemysl). The picture was taken in 1947 near "your" house (it is number 88) and near "London Garden" of Moishe's sketch.

Read you last post in David's Blog - very inspiring. Looking forward reading and seeing you again.
Dear Yoram,
Great to hear from you. I'm glad everyone is a bit safer there. What more do you know about the history of the house on Hayarkon? We were there in '51. I'd love to hear about it. Moishe only remembered that we lived on the 2nd floor (and the highly decorated floors).

I feel a strange pull to go back...

love, Roma

Monday, February 9, 2009

David Wajnapel - and my father?

I met with David Wajnapel's son Stanley yesterday. David was an inmate doctor at Blizyn and Auschwitz concentration camps and lost his whole family in his home town of Radom. After surviving the Gleiwitz death march, he ended up in the Stuttgart Displaced Persons camp (where Stanley was born), and was hired by the JDC as Chief Doctor for all the DP camps in Wittenberg and Baden.

Here's a portion of David's IMT Nuremberg testimony from the invaluable H.E.A.R.T. Holocaust Research site:
On 21st March 1943, there took place throughout the whole district the so-called 'action against the intelligentsia', which action, as I know, was decided upon in an SS and Police Leaders' meeting in Radom. In Radom alone about 200 people were shot at that time; among others, my parents, my brother and his nine-month-old child met their deaths.

On 9th November of the same year all Jewish children up to 12 years of age as well as the old and sick were gathered from Radom and from camps situated near Radom, and shot in the Biala Street in Radom. Both SS officers and other ranks participatedin this. From March 1943, I stayed 18 months in Blizyn Camp.

Drawing by David Wajnapel

The camp was entirely under the SS and the Radom Police Chief's control. Its commandant was Untersturmführer Paul Nell. The guards were composed of SS privates and non- commissioned officers. The foremen were Waffen-SS-men who had been wounded at the front. Both behaved in an inhuman manner by beating and ill-treating us. Shootings of people were frequent occurrences.

Originally sentences were passed by the SS and Police Leader, later on by the camp commandant. The SS other ranks knew very well about the bloody deeds which were committed by the SS in Poland, in particular they told me personally about mass murders of Jews in Majdanek (Aktion Erntefest), in November 1943). This fact was no secret. It was common knowledge among the civil population as well as among the lowest-ranking SS men.

When the camp was taken over by the Majdanek concentration camp, new guards were sent to our camp, but there was no difference between them and the previous ones. In July 1944, the whole camp, including myself, was sent to Auschwitz camp, which could be entered only by SS-men. The conditions of this camp are well known. I escaped during the evacuation of this camp into Germany. On the way, the SS escort machine gunned exhausted prisoners and later on the rest of the marching column. Several hundred people were killed at that time.

David's son, Dr. Stanley Wainapel, now Director of Rehabilitative Medicine at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, kindly gave me a copy of his father's book, "From Death Row to Freedom," which I read last night.

I had discovered a few weeks ago that David Wajnapel was a close friend of one of my father's closest friends, Stan Fraydas, who was born in Radom. My father and Stan were close before the war, and saw each other regularly into the 1980's. Similarly, David and Stan saw each other in New York for many years.

L to R: Mary, Miriam Fraydas, Stan Fraydas, John and Roma

David Wajnapel died in 1988, so I contacted David's son to find out -- did David also know my father? How, when and where might they have met? So far as I knew my father never lived in Radom, and had not been in those camps.

The book provided a plausible answer. In about 1925 David Wajnapel went to Warsaw, where my father was living, to go to Warsaw Medical School, and stayed there for about 6 years. For David, those years were 18-24, and for my father, 16-22. In the last chapter of the book, David mentions with gratitude the kindness of old friends rediscovered in New York City when he arrived in 1948. One of those friends was Stan Fraydas, not named, but described clearly. Stan, David states, was actually a distant relative, and had been his friend and roommate in Warsaw when David was a medical student.

From some of the stories from that period David recounts, women figured prominently in his life-style. Jakub Cytryn fit right in.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Saturday morning, December 13. Our hotel in Jerusalem is in full Shabbos mode. The elevators are riding up and down by themselves, guests are using Shabbat keys instead of electronic door cards, the sensors and timers in the rooms are directing lights and air, the cold buffet is laid out.

We're heading for Jaffa, then Tel Aviv for a full agenda. Yotam Gur-Zeev, wonderful son of the wonderful Yoram Gur-zeev, picks us up at the hotel. We talk about music, performance art. In Jaffa we meet up with Yoram and his wife Dana, and head for St. Anthony's Church. Yoram is marvelously prepared with maps, printed photos, research.

When I first found out I was a Jew, everyone in my family was Jewish back to Moses, all their names were made up, that was shocking enough. But those were facts withheld from me. Finding out I had actually lived in Israel from age 2 to age 4 was a different order of shock. My own experience of my own life, erased. Shouldn't I have a trace of memory? Where were the photos? I had a false history of my own life as well as theirs. It was created for me, shaped for me, retold to me. I had absorbed it as my own, and retold it myself to friends and lovers. It went like this:

I was born in Zabrze in 1947, where my parents lived near the end of the war. My father had continued his private construction business defying nationalization orders and the communists were out to get him. We applied for US visas, and traveled around Europe waiting for them. We lived in Bern, Paris. Later my uncle Ziggy joined us. We lived in a rooming house on a park. We had our Giant Schnauzer Peter with us. When it seemed that US visas were not coming through, we decided to go to Canada. We moved to Genoa to wait for papers, spending several months there. Peter swam on the beach everyday in Genoa, and one day he swam out too far. Italian fisherman rescued him and took him to their village. My parents decided he would be better off there. When the visas arrived, we took an Italian liner to Halifax, then a train to Montreal.

Here's a version closer to the truth, so far as I've been able to piece it together. Like most fabrications, the story was woven with bits of truth. My parents moved to Zabrze as Polish Christians after the war. That area had been Germany in 1939 -- Zabrze was the now renamed town of Hindenburg. It was a perfect place to hide and prosper. Germans were being moved out, Poles from the east were being moved in, my father's civil engineering skills were in demand. Yes, the nationalization problem was true enough. The real impetus to leave Poland, however, was more immediate. Sometime around the winter of 1948-49, my father was out driving around with a girlfriend. He was drunk, drove the car up a wall, and killed a German woman pedestrian, seriously injuring her child. My mother took wads of cash and spread them around, the police, the victims' family, special medical care for the child. My father was successful in the town, he knew and had greased everyone, and was soon tipped off that he was about to be arrested. He went into hiding in a nearby village.

My mother immediately launched a plan to get out of Poland. There was no place to go, especially quickly, except Israel, now a full state. Her uncle Yakov Halperin, her mother's younger brother, initiated immigration proceedings from Haifa where he lived. Of the documents hidden in my mother's files that I recently discovered, a number date about March of 1949, including a "copy" of my birth certificate. My mother was putting it all together. They were living under their new Christian names in Poland, but would have to be Jews again to make Aliyah. They left Poland by train in late 1949. My uncle was with us from the start. So was Peter the Nazi-trained Giant Schnauzer. We spent spent several weeks in a transit camp on a Venetian island. My uncle and my father were in a separate camp from my mother and me. Then we went by ship to Haifa. My grandparents arrived from Poland soon after.

In Haifa, we stayed with my mother's Aunt Yetka and her son Arie Kinsbruner. They were wonderfully generous. Their small place was "one big mattress", my new-found cousin recalls. Then we all traveled to Jaffa, so the men could look for work.

The search for the first place we lived in Jaffa was the first agenda item on our Saturday itinerary. My uncle Ziggy had described our home to me last August. It was in Jaffa, near the beach, next to a Coptic church, on a roof. A big, flat roof. On the far end there was a small wooden shack. In it were two large tubs, where laundry was boiled. There was water but no toilet. There were six of us living there -- my parents, Ziggy, and my grandparents Dorka and Bernard. I was two years old.

Ziggy showed me photos of the roof. I had never seen them. In one photo he was with my grandfather Bernard, another he held a black-and-white kitten, in yet another my mother sat costumed with Arie. None showed any trace of a child. I have to assume since there are a number of photos of others on that roof I have seen since that my mother destroyed any that included me.
(Many years ago, I told my mother about an early childhood memory, and asked her where the setting was. I remembered being small, on a big flat roof, with a number of other children who were running wildly around. I was younger than they, and hung back watching. Near the edge of the roof was a pile of construction debris. One of the boys ran into it and a protruding nail pierced the top of his scalp. I remembered the blood, and adults yelling at us to stop running. My mother said, oh, yes, that was at Appleton, our first apartment in Montreal. I drove over there when I was last in Montreal and was not surprised to find a peaked roof. The memory is undoubtedly of Jaffa.)
Since last August, I had been tracking down the location. My cousin Ron Karas and I identified the church as St. Anthony's in Jaffa. It looked from contemporary photos that the church had an attached building, with a flat roof and similar parapet. We'd found it!

That Saturday morning, we talked our way onto the roof of the attached church building. No bells rang. We took some pictures and asked if anyone really old lived in the neighborhood, someone who might remember that era. We were directed to a pharmacy a block away, and were thrilled to find the ancient pharmacist behind the counter. No, no, he said, after I explained what we were doing, it's not that building, it's the one across the street, and drew us a map.

"This photo gives the best sense of the funky space and view. Our little shed was in the back corner, to the left of the cute white hut, and in front of the ingenious hot water heater."

Back we went. And there it was, flying an Armenian flag, a ramshackle architectural oddity, my first Israeli home. Up on the roof, a tiny dwelling had been built since we lived there, and our shack had been torn down. I compared buildings visible with the old photos. This was it. Bathtubs filled with flowers, an amazing view, part of a decrepit half-abandoned complex owned by the Coptic church. 1900-1977 Yitschak Avinery Street. Later that day, my cousin Arie gave me my first photo of myself in Israel, with my grandmother and the same kitten my uncle held in his photo.
A few days ago I ran across a photo of a little boy in the family collection. I had seen him before and wondered who he was. Suddenly his outfit looked like -- what -- like the one I had on in Arie's photo. The background was unrecognizable until I compared it dot by dot. There was the parapet, the skyline, the chair legs from other photos of the roof. I had never seen a photo of myself during that three-year period, from two to five, and kids change a lot at that age. The little guy was me.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Kurwa Episode

One of the many reasons why it makes sense to research collaboratively is that sometimes people will tell one person things they might not share with another.
Łukasz: When you were in Israel did you hear of the episode with the stinking whore?

Roma: No, but I'd LOVE to hear it now!

Łukasz: Jakub wanted a woman, any woman, badly. "Kuba, are you serious?" his friend asked him in Polish. "This woman stinks!"

Dragging the lady upstairs, Kuba responded, "I'm not going to smell her, I can assure you."
So, is this vignette really as bawdy as it reads? Were they in a brothel or a pub? Did he know her? Can we trust that the translated Polish was not idiomatic? Or is this story just a relic of colloquial humor between young men of the age?

Roma remembers:
Ahh, I can hear his voice now. He would always say about whoever, "Jaka kurva!" ("what a whore") He had very colorful speech.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Roma talks to Goren, a man who grew up with her parents in Przemysl, from early school through the holocaust. And most importantly, someone with a window to a lost past, to a time before the family assumed the Baran name and cloaked their Jewish origins.
Dear Lukasz,

I’m just now getting around to typing up my Josef Goren notes from last weekend. I spoke to him by phone, got his number from Mr. S. He was born in Przemysl in 1922 on Jagiellonska, and moved to Frankowskiego 3 in 1935. (My mother was across the street in Frankowskiego 2). He thinks he was in the 5th grade and my mother in the 6th. He went to the Hebrew school "Tarbut" for just 6 months with my mother, had a disagreement with one of the demanding teachers, and then transferred to the Polish government school. He was sure my mother stayed and graduated from the Tarbut, which surprised me when I read about the school online. All Hebrew classes! He called my mother "vivid, intelligent, loved to read, sharp in her answers, very sure of herself, socially popular, not deeply religious." He remembered her accordion playing. Bernard, my grandfather, he called very nice, quiet.

Goren left looking for a Polish regiment at the outbreak of war, but by the end of September 1939 he was back in Przemysl. He worked in a city office 3 days a week and attended Technikum in Lwow 3 days a week, where he stayed with a physician cousin of his father's. He met my father, but didn't know him well. When the Aktions started he went to Krakow with Christian papers. He confirmed that my father's first wife Anna Katz "Katzowna" (whose father was chief engineer of the electrical plant in Przemysl) went to Krakow in 1941 with false papers that my father had made for her, then died of meningitis there in 1943. He said Anna and Jakub were on pretty good terms, notwithstanding his lust for life (and everything else), and that she was grateful for the fine quality of the papers. Goren examined them himself and concurred.

Goren said that the sister of Mr. S was very famous in Przemysl for her beauty. Goren seemed sure that my father went to Warsaw in 1944, a fact not corroborated by Mr. S. Also in 1944-45, Goren married his wife Mania (Miriam.) After the war, his wife visited my father once in Zabrze with a friend. My mother wasn't there and I remembered that Mr. S had told me, “Your father was friendly with Goren's wife.”

Mania stayed up late playing poker with Jakub and lost $800. Goren came right down there and took his wife's place in the game, and by 3am he had my father down by $400. He seemed quite proud of it.

Apparently they visited my parents in 1954-55 in Montreal, and lost touch after that. He didn't seem to have the same loathing of my father that Mr. S did.

I'm starting to admire my father, can you believe it!?!

love, r
Lukasz confirms the "smallness" of Przemysl as he joins the newly formed Jacob fan club...
Interesting, husband of my 1st cousin twice removed, Olek Weinstock was the engineer at the electrical plant in Przemysl too. He was uncle of Maria who is at the Krakow hospital now ...

Starting to admire your father? He was fantastic guy! I liked him from the start.

L / L
Emotions well as Roma reflects on her parents, concluding that they are not better people, they are not worse ones, they are simply "more real and complex as I see them now than ever before."
Dear Lukasz,

I wish I could have known my father on his own terms. It was easy to be angry with him; he was no prize as a father in many ways. When I was a child, I saw my mother as his victim, and would defend her since she wouldn't do it herself. When I came in the room as my father was ranting, he would look up and say wryly to my mother, in Polish, "Oh, look, your lawyer's here."

I had a strange experience when he died in '88. I went with my mother to Florida to wrap up their affairs there. I was sitting on the beach listening to her speak when suddenly I became my father. For an instant I saw her humility as questionable, her victimhood manipulative and oppressive. As quickly as it came, it passed; I stopped judging my mother through my father’s eyes. But I’d seen enough so that from that moment on, I regretted the judgment of my father I had carried through his death, the child's black-and-white good-mom bad-dad caricature. My mother and father were imperfect real people, and certainly more real and complex as I see them now than ever before.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bubbe Jenta

Another few hours on the 'net, another major discovery...
Dear Lukasz,

Here's a find I'm thrilled about.

You'll recall this whole adventure started with the death in 2007 of Alinka Guzik, my father's cousin, daughter of his uncle Herz. (Another uncle was David Guzik, JDC director in Poland during the war, a part of my newly revealed heritage I'm exceedingly proud of.) My father's side of the family has remained relatively mysterious compared to my mother's. Well, here's Herz, David, Leon (emigrated to Pasadena before the war) and my grandmother Masza's mother Jente, in the Warsaw Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street, Section 100. She married Henoch Guzik.

I first learned my great grandparents' names just before my trip, when I discovered a scrap of paper with passport application annotations in David
Guzik's file at the JDC office in New York (thanks to the wonderfully generous and warm support of director Sherry Hyman). David Guzik's parents (and therefore my greatgrandparents) are noted: Jenta Pinkwasser and Henoch Guzik.

Here's the info transcribed from the stone:

grave id 22276
sex F

first name Jenta
surname Guzik

hebrew name Yenta

fathers name Moshe Yaakov

maiden name Pinkwasser

date of death (m/d/y) 2/5/1918

I can't even express what is so exciting about finding this. Part of it is the thrill of the hunt, the detective's conceit. I won't begin to admit how many hours I spend peering into Jewish haystacks in internet space. Part is the sheer concrete-ness of a gravestone, name carved for eternity. Like the tombs of the pharaohs I just saw, my great grandmother's grave represents her continued existence. Couldn't be a sharper contrast to her prior utter non-existence in my universe. And there's some deep and moving symbolism of her eternal rest there in particular, Ground Zero of loss, the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery.



Tuesday, January 6, 2009


We flew from Cairo to Tel Aviv, then took a cab to the hotel in Jerusalem. In the morning we met with a group of friends and walked around the Old City of Jerusalem. Preparations for Shabbos were everywhere, large piles of challah loaves, stores starting to close before the early winter sunset. I walked down the men's side of the Western Wall plaza by mistake, and was quickly intercepted. Spent some time sitting by the wall with the other women, and wrote a note.

The note was in the name of my paternal grandparents, aunts, their husbands and children, all murdered in Warsaw. Despite much research, I had learned next to nothing about them, including how they died. The exception was my Aunt Sabina, whose name I found the first night I searched the Yad Vashem database.

Her last months were unimaginable so I try to imagine them. Having survived through 1942, enduring what she must have, she ended up in the Zambrow transit camp, one of the worst in terms of crowding, malnutrition, disease and cold. Between January 14th and 18th, 1943, the camp was liquidated, and she was transported to Auschwitz. At Auschwitz she lived long enough to have been registered by those neat functionaries, carefully spelling her maiden name, Cytryn, and her mother's maiden name, Guzik. Five weeks later, on February 25, 1943, her death was recorded in the Auschwitz Death Registers:

Auschwitz Death Registers, The State Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau
Last Name
First Name
First Name
Maiden Name
Father's First Name
Mother's First Name
Mother's Maiden Name
Date of Birth
Place of Birth
Marital Status
Spouse's First Name
Spouse's First Name
Place during the war
Place of Death
Date of Death
Type of material
List of victims from Auschwitz
Source Page number
Victims' status end WWII

I had known about some of the deaths of my father's relatives. I always said they "died in the war." Holocaust was a special term reserved for Jews. Not my family. Strange to think now, Sabina was not just in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was the target.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bubbe Helena

A recent thread; an important discovery.
Dear Lukasz,

I think I found my maternal great-grandmother in the Yad Vashem database:

First Name HELENA
Sex Female
Age 78
Place during the war LWOW,POLAND
Wartime Address Snopkowska Boczna 4
Place of Death LWOW,POLAND
Date of Death 12/01/1942
Place of Cremation/Burial LWOW,POLAND
Original Record No. 217
Victims' status end WWII Perished
Language Polish
Related item Lists of Jews buried in the Jewish cemetery in
Lwow, 1941-1942

In JRI-Poland she is listed as having married Juda Halpern in 1891 at the age of 21, a year before their first child, my grandmother Dorka, was born. That would make her birth date 1870. At first I thought the Yad Vashem entry was someone else because the age is 6 years older than the JRI-Poland entry. The address seemed familiar, and there it is in my mother's Reparation file, 4 Snopkowska, Lwow. She states that she was living there while studying in Lwow during the Russian occupation. So I think the age on the cemetery list is probably wrong.

What does the "Boczna" refer to? I wonder if these are mass graves with lists, or individual graves.

love, Roma
Could it be Roma's great-grandmother given the date discrepancy?
Dear Roma,

It seems to me that the data fits. The dates may be mistakenly transcripted but can be ignored because the address is so decisive. I deal with these kind of handwritten files all the time. It is hard to correctly decipher the old script. As a matter of fact I'm working on old, hand written Lwow Birth/Death/Marriage records from pre-1870 right now. Of course, the same applies to Yad Vashem records which have been digitized from handwritten Hebrew, Yiddish, or other script ...

Boczna means a "side street," a mews, court, or extension that later became a street of its own name or was integrated with Snopkowska St. It may be known as "Boczna Snopkowskiej" too.

The old Jewish cemetery in Lwow was destroyed. The existing one is an amazing place.

NYE fireworks will have a meaning to you this year, eh? . I wish you as exciting New Year as this one was.

Cheers, lukasz
A valuable lesson from Lukasz - Computer data reflects a person's best guess at what a hand written, often hard-to-read document said at the time of digitizing. In my experience, the people who do the dirty work of data input usually do a fantastic job reading handwriting that I couldn't even begin to decode. Nevertheless, with such volumes of information, errors do occur. Keep this in mind when you run into promising leads that have one piece of contradictory data. A wrong year might just be a transcription error - by the digitizer or on the original document.

Dear Lukasz,

Makes sense. Tell me a little about the new Lwow cemetery. Are there any gravestones or markers for the lists? Besides my great-grandmother, many other relatives perished in Lwow. Great-grandfather Juda Halpern also. My grandmother's brother Henrik Halpern who was a lawyer, his wife Khana and their 5-year-old son Roman/Romek. My grandmother's younger sister, Lola/Laura Halpern. Five or six members of my grandmother's uncle's family, named Weiss, including his daughter Malvina Weiss, who had a music school there. My grandmother's sister Yetka's family, Kinsbruner. Yetka filled out witness testimonials in 1956 for 13 family members. I met her son Arie in Tel Aviv. Lwow swallowed up a large part of the family.

"May you live in exciting times" is considered a curse by the Chinese. I hope to find some peace with all this year as well.

My best for the New Year,
love, r

Monday, December 29, 2008

First Leg: Egypt

Since I wildly overestimated the energy I would have to blog during the trip at the end of a day that included, say, climbing the Snake Path up Masada in the dark, I'll intersperse trip reporting with other news from home.

The trip began with a red-eye to Tel Aviv, and a connection to Cairo. I was up with the sunrise, and as the plane flew over the Aegean Sea, I watched the coastline of Israel appear. I felt a strange kinship with tens of thousands of Jews who had squinted as they neared those same beaches, in joy and apprehension, and sorrow for the many who did not live to join them.

In Ben Gurion Airport, I thought, everyone here is a Jew, I'm a Jew. Well, not everyone, but I was struck by the reality, kosher McDonald's sign and all.

"Shalom," I said casually to the baggage inspector, as if it weren't one of only three Hebrew words I knew. He cross-examined me anyway, comparing my version of where my bags had spent the day with that of my traveling companions.

We flew off to Cairo, and then to Luxor. We toured the tombs, pyramids and temples, drove around the ancient cities, families cutting sugar cane and loading it onto donkeys, camels in the middle of traffic, women covered from head to foot.

My friends and I became fascinated with the story of Hatshepsut, a female pharaoh who ruled some 3500 years ago. She took the role as King, not Queen, and wore the traditional male garb - kilt, headgear and false beard. After her death, her treacherous step-son tried to erase her existence by defacing her images and covering her statues.

The tone for the trip settled on me: an astonishing sense of enduring history, dynasty, tradition, family, ritual and deep connection with the past. Hard to believe, I had never even read a biographical novel in my life, and had little interest in period films. I had never concerned myself with my own connection to the past, having grown up to believe it didn't exist, or at best was shadowy and unknowable, and in any event of no consequence.

My parents, motivated not by treachery but by a totally understandable permanent fear reflex, and a genuine desire to protect me, and themselves, from another Holocaust, had de-faced and covered up the past. Their past, my past, our families' past. Relatives, photographs, documents, oral history, traditions -- all vanished, or banished. A difficult decision, I'm sure, it had wider reverberations than they probably imagined.

Since my discovery in August, I had spent hundreds of hours online, mining databases and links only recently available to researchers. I'm still not sure I can say why the process is so compelling. Part OCD, part familiar management style, and part belief that some measure of psychic wholeness might emerge from the process. Now, thanks to wonderful old friends and new, and to family known and newly discovered, I was going back to Israel to gather up a few parts of the puzzle, research in tow.

Just around time's corner

Here's a poignant photo of my uncle Zygmunt - on the far right of seated group.

It was taken by an abandoned mill on the river Wiar, a small tributary of the San a kilometer or so to the east of Przemysl, in July 1939.

My uncle remembers many boys would walk there on a summer's day from Przemysl and do daring feats, like jump off the bridge. Ziggy almost drowned there once when he went alone.

No one could imagine what was just around time's corner.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Dear friends and family,

We arrived in Jerusalem yesterday after 4 great days in Egypt. Fell in love with Cairo.

Last night I went to a Shabbat service and then dinner at the home of Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kalman, leader of the Kol Haneshama congregation. I met Levi and his wife Paula through Laurie Anderson.

What a perfect introduction to Jerusalem, and to my quest here.

Today is family day. We're off to Jaffa/Tel Aviv to meet cousins Arie, Moishe and Amnon. Could I ever have imagined I had a cousin named Moishele!

Also on today's agenda is a hunt through Jaffa for the places we lived, my Uncle Ziggy's workshop, and the Tel Aviv beach where the Aliyah Giant Schnauzer Peter drowned.

At the end of the day, the meeting with Alfred Steinhardt, to ask the question -- Who was my father?

love to all,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Leo and Eugenie

Roma writes:

I'm leaving Saturday for Cairo and Luxor, arriving Jerusalem late December 11th. So much is happening every day now, so many wonderful people contributing to the quest. Today I spoke by telephone (to Haifa) with Alex Kluger, my mother's 89-year-old first cousin, son of my grandfather Bernard's brother Leo and his wife Eugenie. (Gideon Goldstein tracked him down, many thanks.) Alex was so charming and welcoming, my heart bursts with all the family I am discovering. I don't have a picture of Alex yet, but here are his parents, found in my uncle's treasure trove of forbidden photos.

love, Roma

Uncle Leo was a Feldwebel (Sergeant-major) in the Austrian army - the highest non-commissioned rank available. The medal on his chest is probably a Jubilee Cross , minted for the 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Franz Josef, 1848-1908.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

"So, you are Kuba's daughter..."

Thanks to Lukasz's fine detective work, Roma has a rendezvous with Mr. S - a survivor living in Israel who knew her father.

Simply amazing.
Dear Lukasz,

I spoke to Mr. S by telephone today, and arranged a meeting on Saturday Dec 13th. I cannot begin to tell you how exciting even my short conversation was, and what a miraculous discovery you have made!

He said right away to me: "So, you are Kuba's daughter." My father's nickname based on Jakub! He knew my father's first wife Anna Katz and her family. He knew where Anna Katz is buried in Krakow (died 1943). He is from Przemysl, and knew my father there, and doubtless my mother's family as well. Finally, my father actually lived with him and his family for a year-and-a-half at the end of the war.

I believe Mr. S will be the most important window into who my father really was. As I mentioned, I have not been able to find anyone alive who knew him even in Montreal, much less through these important stages of his life that I know nothing about. It is nothing short of a stunning piece of research, Lukasz; you are amazing.

I am hoping to meet with Yoram as well. He has been kind enough to invite me to his place.

Happy Thanksgiving to all,
love, Roma

An interesting sidebar: Mr S is the son of the former director and chief physician of the Jewish Hospital in Przemysl.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Lukasz, our friend from Warsaw, is one of the main detectives working to unravel Roma's saga. He recently traveled to Israel where he confirmed an improbable connection that he had made between Roma's father and a man he knew of living in Israel.

This thread introduces two new players to the tale, Yoram and Mr.S - his name obscured in these posts for his privacy. Lukasz explains who they are, and how he found them:
I met Yoram and his wife in Przemysl 5 years ago where they were researching his
Kammermann and Dems roots. I remember we took picture in front of one of the houses they lived at Czarnieckiego St, the same street that "yours" lived on (David: Here he is referring to my great-grandfather, Marcus Metzger)

Then we talked about Mr.S, whom they know and who left the most interesting testimony after the war. I always wanted to meet him, but had no occasion and proper motivation. When the Barans' story showed up and I read Cytryn's testimony I had sudden insight associating a village in the Bieszczady mountains, where, as I suspected, they were both hiding at the same time. It was almost obvious to me that they ought to know each other.
Lukasz's email to Roma sets the stage for this remarkable discovery:
I attached the testimony of Mr.S from Przemysl who was in hiding very close to Jakub in the mountains. They were probably evacuated by Germans in the same transport and may have known each other. I'll try to talk to him on the phone when in Tel Aviv.
But first, Lukasz attends to family and business in Israel:
Our visit in Eretz was very exciting from the start to finish. First we met our daughter, who studies in Jerusalem, then we went to Nazareth where I presented a paper and spoke at a psychiatric conference about shame of the second generation witnesses. It took place in an hotel converted from a Catholic church and monastery. I worked on the paper until the last moment before finding that there was a problem with the printer at the hotel. The Arab receptionist said "no problem, I shall send it to my brother, he'll print it and will deliver it." 20 minutes later it was in my hands - would such service be possible in Europe?

All the time they fed us as if we were geese with fantastic food that in a restaurant one would cost a fortune - all for nothing - and in a room overlooking all of Nazareth from atop a hill ...
Then the trail to Roma's father heats up, in a most interesting manner...
Dear Yoram,

I'd like to call Mr.S from your place. It seems he was evacuated by Germans in the same convoy as one other guy from Przemysl who was hiding there named Baran. Fantastic story at the Przemysl Blog.

Shabbat Shalom,

----- Original Message -----

Lukasz -
Amazing story of Baran, I believe Mr.S knows this guy by his previous Cytryn name...

Cheers, Yoram
And off to Yoram's house...
We then went to Yoram's and once again, we were stuffed with delicious food. There, we met Mr.S who is a very bright person of great culture who remembers Przemysl well. We impressed each other with the knowledge of Przemysl past and people. He happens to be the relative of the famous Anna Feingold, the only woman who served as a president of a Judenrat in Poland - at Zasanie mini-ghetto. He knew other interesting living people from Przemysl, like Jurek Kamieniecki who we had breakfast with the next morning at a cafe on Tel Aviv beach...Small world indeed ...
Amazing... through knowledge, skill, and a whole lot of luck, Lukasz has found someone who not only knew Baran, but hid out with him back when he called himself Cytryn. Lukasz informs Roma:
Dear Roma,
I met Mr.S yesterday. He knows your father well and knows more than you'd like to know. I'll be back home on Wednesday.
Love, Lukasz

----- Original Message -----

Dear Lukasz,
I'd like to know it all. I have suspected it's not pretty, but the truth is all I have now. Do you think Mr.S would meet me in December? What language does he speak? Have a safe trip back, will check in then.
love, Roma
More than you'd like to know... is not in Roma's vocabulary. But what is the story? What happened all those years ago. One man seems to know. Time for Roma to head to Israel and find out.
Dear Yoram,

I am writing at the suggestion of Lukasz Biedka regarding setting up a meeting with Mr.S. Apparently, through an amazing coup of research, Lukasz connected him and my father, and, as it turns out, they were well acquainted, both at the end of the war in the Ukraine and Hungary, and in Przemysl.

I very recently found out at the age of 61 that I am a Jew, and that my whole family changed their names and kept this secret. As you can imagine, I have been trying to put our family history back together. Since my father has been dead for 20 years, I have not even found someone where he lived who knew him, so it is an astonishing discovery Lukasz has made indeed.

If you would like to read more about my revelation and Lukasz' role in it, it is being followed by David Semmel on his Jewish Przemysl blog.

I will be in Israel in the Jerusalem area from December 11 through the 15th. I look forward to hearing from you.

Roma Baran

----- Original Message -----

Dear Roma
I have read and heard from Lukasz about your amazing quest. I'll talk to Mr.S and come back to you.
Warm regards
Quite the cliffhanger; soon to be resolved. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ronald Kluger

A big part of uncovering the past is the discovery of living relatives. For Roma, one such find is Ronald Kluger, a cousin, now living in Canada. Mr. Kluger was nice enough to share his discovery of his new cousin, and to explain how it all fits together:
I received a phone message from Roma Baran, saying she was the daughter of Mary and John Baran and that we were relatives. I didn't know who she was or who her parents were. When we talked the next day, I learned that we indeed were relatives - her mother, Roza Klüger, was the daughter of my father's uncle Bernhard and that she was working to find out who she really was, having lived with parents who had invented their biographies.

My parents had left Austria in 1938 with their identities intact and had moved to the US after taking refuge in Belgium - Kristallnacht had sent a clear message that it was time to leave. My father, William Kluger (born Friedrich Wilhelm Klüger,) was raised in Vienna. His parents, Reizel Klüger and Josef Klüger, first cousins, came from Bukovina, Romania.

The Kluger family - Zygmunt, Dorka, Roza, and Bernhard

When I was a child, we had visited Roma's grandparents, my father's uncle and aunt, Bernhard and Dorka Klüger, in Montreal.

We had met their very debonair son, Zygmunt, but had no further visits. I was told by my father that his Uncle Bernhard had acquired a passport of a dead catholic man in Poland named Josef Karas and had not bothered to revert to his real identity. In our family, they were still referred to as Uncle Bernhard and Aunt Dorka.

We were told that with their Catholic identities, they were not really interested in developing the family relationships. Nonetheless, my father's sister, Gisa, had been very fond of visiting them in Montreal. She liked the British connection in Canada, having served in the British Army. I don't know if she had met Roma. I was not aware of Bernhard and Dorka's daugher Roza, called Mary Karas, who was Roma's mother and also didn't know about Roma. I had seen Zygmunt again about 10 years ago when we visited Montreal but he did not introduce me to his family.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Roma's Story - Continued!

Welcome readers from The Jewish Przemysl Blog! This is Roma's Story, a continuation of Roma Baran's journey of family and self-discovery.

Below are links to all the Roma entries over at Jewish Przemysl:

And here is Roma's email that started this remarkable saga:
I just ran across the Przemysl blog and wanted to ask your advice. I just discovered (at the age of 61) that I am a Jew, that my parents survived the Holocaust under assumed names, and that I lived in Israel between 1949 and 1951. I am now in the early stages of trying to reconstruct my parents' real history. A summary of my father's reparation file states that he was interred in the Przemysl ghetto in 1942, liberated in Uzhorod in 1944, and was in Przemysl and Bytom after the war...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

In Memoriam

Mary Baran/Roza Kluger

Dear friends,

I am very sad to tell you that my mother died in Montreal on Wednesday, October 22. The night before, she watched "Tootsie" (for the umpteenth time) with Angela, a caring staff member at her nursing home, and they laughed uproariously. On Wednesday she was well and cheerful, read a magazine, and enjoyed every last bite of lunch. Afterwards, she lay down for a nap on a golden fall afternoon, and had a fatal arrhythmia. She was 87.

I have spoken of her in the context of our recent revelations and my history with her in that regard, as well as my first reactions to the discovery. I wanted to tell you a little more about her and her life, and how much of what I value in my own life I learned from her. She was born on March 11, 1923 in Przemysl, Poland. She was an outgoing, vivacious, very attractive and intelligent young woman growing up before the war. She learned many languages fluently, English, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Russian, German, Italian, French, ancient Greek, Latin and, I recently discovered, Hebrew and Yiddish. (My uncle just gave me her book of off-color Yiddish jokes, where I found a number of grammar corrections in her hand). She played the accordion amazingly, dancing with a big 120 bass Scandalli like it was made of paper. She was also a virtuoso whistler -- she had practiced under the covers at night when she was a child. She was close to her handsome and gentle brother, Zygmunt, two years her junior, and to her parents, Dorka (Halpern), an incomparable cook, and Bernard Kluger, a powerfully built machinist with an almost Zen aura of peacefulness. The family was not deeply religious, but they observed the holidays and traditions of a Jewish household.

Mary was eighteen when the war broke out, but still went to Lwow and studied medicine until the Germans invaded Russia. She returned to Przemysl where she was interred in the ghetto, and did forced labor. She met my father Jakub Cytryn around this time, a civil engineer whose mother's brother was the revered David Guzik, JDC Director in Poland. Around the time of the first set of Aktions she and her parents escaped with forged documents and new identities, surviving the war by hiding in a dirt floor hut owned by a Polish man named Sawitzki in Mogila (outside of Krakow). She supported her parents by bicycling many kilometers every day to work in a tobacco factory. Zygmunt survived the war, too, fighting with the First Polish Armored Division under General Maczek that became part of the First Canadian Army. Many other relatives were lost in the Holocaust. My father was the only one of his large immediate family who survived.

After the war, Mary lived with my father, now known as John Baran, in Silesia, where she ran his construction office. I was born in Zabrze in 1947. In 1949 we emigrated to Israel. We fled Poland with almost no possessions, but Mary would not leave without our enormous black Giant Schnauzer, Peter, a German messenger dog whom she rescued at the end of the war when he was about to be shot by the retreating army. Peter was undoubtedly the only Nazi-trained dog to make Aliyah. Later Peter drowned off the beaches of Tel Aviv, and my parents walked up and down the sand for weeks looking for him.

We emigrated to Montreal in 1951, and Mary taught Kindergarten and finished a
Ph.D. in Classics. She worked hard, raised me, struggled with anxiety and
depression, and also struggled in a sometimes difficult marriage. My father's
war experiences had wrought their damage on him, too, but she was devoted to him for life.

She was a natural teacher, and had immense patience, with me, and with the hundreds of Kindergarten students fortunate enough to start their school careers in her "magic kingdom" of a classroom. She taught me to love learning, and to
approach the world with intellectual curiosity. She taught me to love music, not just passively, but with hands-on gusto. Even when she stopped recognizing people and didn't speak, she could sit down at the little keyboard in her room and play through a Gershwin tune, in time and with all the complicated chords. She taught me to fall madly in love with animals, starting, of course, with Peter. She had a wicked sense of humor, and even when rendered non-verbal by Alzheimer's, she'd make sight gags with small props. She taught me to find humor in the detail of everyday life. And she tried to teach me, not altogether successfully, to be "a mild judge of others," as her beloved father Bernard had put it.

Like her father, Mary had endless stories and sayings, an "apropos" for every occasion. When someone proposed an activity she had decided not participate in, she would say "Include me out!" I hear myself using the phrase now and then, in her intonation. After a long, complex life, Mary included herself out. I feel the loss even more keenly having just found a large piece of her life she had successfully hidden for so long.

-- Roma Baran

Monday, October 20, 2008

John and Mary in Pictures

John Baran (Jakub Cytryn)

Mary Baran (Roza Kluger)

Yad Charuzim on Laszczynskeigo St. - Where Mary lived at the outbreak of war

Dworskiego 51 - Where Mary lived on return to Przemysl

Kopernika St. 5 where John lived with his first wife (née Katz) and her parents

ul. Wspolna 54 - where John lived in Warsaw when the war broke out

Friday, October 17, 2008

John Baran's Story

From Roma's father's Wiedergutmachung (German government holocaust reparations) affidavit.

I, Jan Thomas Baran, previously Cytryn, resident of Montreal, declare under oath after being informed of the significance of declarations under oath:

When the war broke out I was living in Warsaw, Wspolna 54A with my first wife, Anna Cytryn née Katz, who was from Przemysl. My parents lived in Warsaw, Leszno St. no. 56, and remained there. This street was later added to the ghetto. My parents had to wear the star of David, and also do forced labor. Later my parents fled the ghetto and lived in hiding. I did not hear anything more from them, and so must assume that they died.

In September of 1939 I was conscripted into the army and in early October of 1939 I left the army and came to Przemysl. I lived there with my first wife (née Katz) and her parents in Kopernika St. 5 until the start of the German-Russian war in 1941. As required I wore a star of David then and had to work in a SS forced labor camp.

In early 1942 my first wife left the Przemysl Ghetto and went to Krakow where she hid and later died.

My current wife, Maria Rose Klueger-Karas, lived in the village of Mogila near Krakow and worked in a tobacco shop there. Like myself, she was pretending to be a Pole. We were in regular contact and met several times; this was possible because we were both pretending to be Poles, but despite that we didn’t want to live together in order not to attract attention even in this manner.

After the death of my first wife in March of 1943, Maria very much wanted me to come to Mogila, but many of my acquaintances were killed and I thought my chances were better in Tarnawa because it was near the Hungarian border; in September of 1943 after the Jewish forced labor camp was liquidated I left Przemysl and went to Tarnawa.

I then went to Sokoliki, where I lived hidden in a tiny room in the attic of one Jan Maslowski for one month (September 1943). During this time my friends visited me: Jan Krzysztof from Przemysl, my previous boss, who brought me money, and also Maria, my current wife.

In March of 1944, Maria had the opportunity to come to Lemberg by truck for a few days. I came from Tarnawa to Lemberg then as well. We were both in very low spirits and desperate, and we married on 14 March 1944 in order to belong to each other at least in this way. Right afterwards, Maria returned to Mogila and I to Tarnawa Wyzna.

Because the attic was very cold, I had to leave this place and I went to Tarnawa, where I hid in a pig stall owned by one Gorski, with counterfeit documents. I had to leave this place for a few days at great risk in order to get money from Lemberg, and returned immediately to Tarnawa. My files include a copy of the registration under my cover name – Baran – with the police in Tarnawa Wyzna.

The Ukrainian national organization UPA had a very strong presence in this area at the time. The leader of this organization was Stefan Bandera, and its goal was to fight against the Russians and the Poles. Many Polish families were attacked by these bandits and horribly murdered; those that survived felt compelled to seek assistance and protection from the German authorities. As the Russian front approached, the UPA became even more violent and the local German commander issued special permits for Polish families to travel from the Sokoliki Gorskie train station to Uzhorod with German supply troops.

The local German commander in Sokoliki Gorskie – Tarnawa was a quiet and educated man who loved chess. I think he came from Cologne, but I no longer know his name. I also think that he had the rank of Hauptmann. It would be very easy to determine this via German military reports. The garrison in Sokoliki Gorskie – Tarnawa had a special butcher’s department, and made sausages and other meat products for the Wehrmacht.

In September of 1944 my old friend Michael Kampel visited me, bringing news and money from my current wife who was hiding at the time in Mogila.

Because this town was endangered by bands of Ukrainian partisans, I decided to leave Tarnawa to reach Hungary by walking through the woods at night. I arrived in Uzhorod in mid-October. Uzhorod was completely cleansed of Jews [judenrein]; all the Jews had already been relocated [umgesiedelt] when I arrived. I lived in a building that had belonged to a Jewish family, near the bridge, in the same complex [Block] as the Gestapo office.

I was liberated in Uzhorod by the Russians on 27 October 1944.
Supporting documentation from an old friend:

Affidavit of Michael Kampel

I, Michael Kampel, New York, resident of New York, 1530 Plimpton Avenue, merchant, do declare the following under oath in connection with the restitution [application] of Mr. Jan Thomas Baran, earlier Cytryn:

I was born in Rostaka on 17 December 1909 and was living in Premzsyl at the start of the war. I applied for restitution and have already received full payment; I lived at Targoviza no. 10 in Premzsyl when the war started, and came to the Stalovawola camp in 1939 where I stayed until 1941. In 1941 I returned to Premzsyl and lived in the ghetto there until September of 1942, at which time I was caught again and sent to the Plaschow concentration camp near Krakow, where I stayed until 1944. In 1944 I was sent to another camp, namely Skajjisko Kamena, where I remained until August of 1944. In August of 1944 I escaped and then lived in different places in the woods near Krakow until liberation. When I was in the Premzsyl Ghetto in 1942, I saw the applicant, Mr. Jan Thomas Baran and his current wife, Marie Rose Klieger. At that time they were not yet married. We were old acquaintances and that is why I remember this meeting. Later – after I fled the camp – I met the applicant Baran in September in Tarnowa, where he was hiding in a pig stall owned by the farmer Gurski. I knew this because it was told to me by a third party, namely my brother-in-law, who also coincidentally was named Gurski but is not related to the farmer. I visited him in the night and subsequently also visited his current wife Baran, who was hiding in the cellar of the farmer Savitzki in Mogila near Krakow, and passed on greeting from her then friend and/or finance Mr. Baran and/or Cytryn. I then did not see the applicant or his wife from this time until liberation, because visits of that type, while very pleasant, were mortally dangerous, and therefore I could not repeat them after I had hidden in the forests.

Read to, approved, signed and sworn: 2 July 1959

Roma wants to thank her friend Marlene Schoofs in Berlin for the translations and for wringing these files out of the German bureaucracy.