New Year's day brought this to my in box:
Dear Lukasz and David,
As time flies and we are involved in so many things we tend to sometimes forget the essence.
I so anted to write to you and wish you a Happy New Year – especially, because you were two of a handful who made my previous year significant. And the holiday went by and, regrettably, I did not write. So before Yom Kippur comes around, I will use the double opportunity to first apologize for my oversight, and second, to wish you a really jubilant, successful, peaceful and happy new year.
I have been following closely the fascinating story of Roma Baran unfolding on your blog, David. You cannot imagine how moving an experience it is. If Roma needs any paperwork from Israel, I would be happy to see how to deal with it.
To me, the privilege of corresponding and connecting to people like Roma, Lukasz, and Gideon is the reason to have a blog in the first place. Emails like this make the new year sweet.
So I forwarded Gideon's offer to Roma and sat back as the emails flew! Below is Roma's introductory letter; a good summary of where she's at reconstructing her family's true history.
I was moved to read your response to my adventure. Would you mind telling me about yourself, your background, and what you do?
I will be in Israel from December 11 to 17th, traveling with friends. I will also try to take some time to visit new found relatives, do some research, and will try to track my family's stay in Israel. Finding out that I lived there was almost as shocking as the other parts of the revelation, and I am making various efforts to integrate the idea into my sense of my own history. And to how living there fits into what it means to me at this late date to be Jew.
My general research falls into several areas. Tracking my mother's family from Przemysl is in some ways the easiest. My uncle (her brother) Zygmunt is alive and has been very generous with his time, information, and photos. In addition, there are relatives in Israel on my mother's side with whom I will be able to visit.
My father's side is most mysterious. I know almost nothing about his family, not their real names, dates of birth, only that both parents and all four siblings (sisters) and their families died in the Shoah, mostly in the Warsaw Ghetto. I know very little about his wartime experience or how he survived.
Finally, I would like to reconstruct our emigration -- from Poland in late 1949 by train to an island off Venice, a boat to Haifa (possibly the Kedmah), a stay in barracks, possibly an abandoned/bombed out coastal building in Jaffa, and then living on a rooftop adjacent to St. Anthony's church in Jaffa. My grandparents (maternal) followed us to Jaffa shortly after we arrived. While we were there, my father eventually got some work in construction, and my uncle established a small workshop converting old tires back into usable rubber ( I will send a picture of the workshop on Monday). We left Israel in August 1951, taking a boat to Marseilles (this may have been the Kedmah trip instead), meeting up with my father's cousin Wladek Guzik (JDC director David Guzik's only surviving child) and together all going to Canada.
I am attaching a photo of my uncle on the Jaffa rooftop, my mother and her cousin on the rooftop ( the cousin whom I will visit, an architect in Tel Aviv), and my parents and I on the Kedmah. (A wonderful group on a ship forum identified the SS Kedmah from my photos. Isn't the internet amazing? Here's the link to that exchange.
One of the unexpected and rewarding benefits of my search has been making contact with interesting and generous search partners, such as David Semmel, Lukasz Biedka, Sheila Schneider and many others. David's wife Jocelyn taught me the concept of Mispochah.
I would appreciate it very much if you could guide me to resources in Israel that could help fill in some blanks. Let's talk some more.
Below is Gideon's response; just another fascinating, wonderful personal success story of a first generation Israeli. The last part of the letter is an excellent primer on how to do Jewish historical research in Israel.
I am very happy to hear from you. Yes, I was touched by your story and would be happy to help as best possible.
I was born in Haifa, my mother's family is from Przemysl. Most of them were fortunate to emigrate to Israel before the war. My father was born in Haifa, yet his family is from Belz, which is usually referred to as the ultimate Shtetl, probably because of a very famous Yiddish song called "Mein Shtetl'e Belz".
I hold a law degree from the University of Tel Aviv, yet I never practiced. I have a graduate degree in educational leadership from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and at present I am working on my PhD Dissertation in educational leadership at the University of Bath in England. I have a daughter and a son, both living in Israel.
I teach college and do some consulting, mostly in instructional technology and education. I have been involved in Holocaust studies as well as with student study missions to Poland for over 15 years. My genealogical research is a hobby.
I read your message with the fascinating details behind the story on David's blog. I think I can help you on three levels in preparation for and during your visit to Israel.
One: The Ministry of the Interior in Israel holds all documents of people who had entered the country since its independence in 1948. I assume there would be a record for each of your family members (I understand that would include you, your parents, your maternal grandparents and your maternal uncle) the information on record should include full names and parental names; Dates of entry and exit; The name of the vessel you arrived on as well as addresses in Israel. There are three levels of information. Basic information is provided on request pending some identity of the individuals (if you have any of their Israel assigned ID numbers, that would be of help). All you need to do is show up at any of the census offices, wait in line and apply. You would probably be given a printed record on the spot (free of charge). A more detailed record is available as well. Your own should be given to you at the same time you receive the basic information. As for your relatives, this depends: I had some success in obtaining detailed relative information after writing a letter to the Minister. In other cases, a court order is required. The third level includes the possibility to examine the original documents (as in personally filled immigration forms) would always require a court order.
Much of this could be done before your arrival. I can help you draft the letter to the minister, if you wish to follow that route. I can also recommend an attorney who would advise you as to how do proceed in obtaining the needed court orders. Let me know what you think.
Two: The Jewish Agency held, between 1945-2000 a special unit called "The Search Bureau for Missing Relatives". This bureau received over a million requests over the years of people searching for relatives gone missing during the war (WW II). Since its closure in 2000, the archived records were transferred to the "Zionist Archive". Take a look at the options under "Family research". I have never used the service, but I will be willing to help if needed.
[After closer scrutiny of the central Zionist archive website - it seems that they hold a list of all immigrants arriving Palestine/Israel through most of the 20th century. They require one fills a form (available on-site) and pay a fee of USD20 per household investigated. This may a good starting point as you can do this by e-mail - It also located on the Family Research section. -GG]
Three: Israeli public radio was the voice for the above searches. In the 1950's 60's and 70's it aired a special program also called "The Search Bureau for Missing Relatives". The program, discontinued a long time ago has been resumed. With the current version still focusing on Holocaust stories, but allows for modern reunions as well. I think that your special story would receive much attention and would be allocated sufficient air-time to try and find people who may have known your paternal grandparents, your aunts and probably your family during your stay in Israel in 1949-51. The problem here is that the program is flooded with requests, and again, I believe that you would probably receive preference.
If you are willing to share your story with a radio audience, we would need to work on an encapsulation of the facts (names, dates, places) before your arrival and prod the producers for preferential treatment in allowing this to air just before or during your visit here.
I think this is an overdose of information for a first message. Take your time to sort it out; let me know if you need more information. When you make your mind up regarding what it is that you would like to do with each of the sources, let me know so we can progress.
All the best,
The power of the internet; the power of the Mispochah... does it get any better?