Thursday, September 25, 2008

Time... suspended

A post card from Przemysl, 1928:

My grandmother Dora Kluger (Halpern) on the sled with her kids (my mother and uncle); Dora's sister Lola is pulling.

Time -- even the snowflakes -- suspended.

Fourteen years later Lola would die in the Lwow ghetto, while Dora survived by becoming Helen Karas and escaping to Mogila.
Reverse side:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I believe I have found my father

Nonchalant as ever, Roma emails her latest discovery...
I believe I have found my father, real name Jakub Cytryn, in the 1939 Warsaw Directory (page attached). He was a civil engineer. It appears that he lived at 29 Piusa XI, and had a an office at 56 Lezno. Other Cytryns lived at 29 Piusa and of them the family of Samuel, Anna Zosia appear to have survived the war (per JRI-Poland).

love, Roma

Some new leads, new information, and new friends:
I met with Estelle Guzik at the Center for Jewish History yesterday. She is wonderful, and generously showed me around the collection and the databases.

Your Sheila (JRI Przemysl Coordinator) is a marvel, too. I’m following up on her suggestions, and hope to meet with her soon.

I spoke to my Uncle Zygmunt again, and got more information, especially on the relatives who are still alive - most of them in Israel, of course!

One of the pictures of old Przemysl I sent him from the net actually shows the place they lived across from (in?) the Bursa. He was pretty excited, saying “This window was the kitchen, then my bedroom...” I can’t figure out which pic it was, but I’ll get him to show it to me when I go up to Montreal.

I found my grandmother’s brother Henrik (and his wife) in the Yad Vashem records:
Dr. Henrik Halperin was born in Skole in 1895 to Yulius and Helena. He was a lawyer and married to A.

Prior to WWII he lived in Lwow, Poland (now Ukraine) Dr. Halperin perished in the Shoah. This information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left) submitted on 01-Apr-1956 by his sister.

Interesting that my grandmother (Dora Kluger nee Halpern, later Helen Karas) took her mother’s name as her new false first name.

Hope all is well with you.

love, Roma

Friday, September 12, 2008

The secret extended from parents to grandparents

Roma's parents and grandparents:
When I was 6, my mother and father brought my maternal grandparents to Montreal from Bytom, where everyone ended up after the war. (How they all got there is one of the puzzle pieces.) I lived with my grandparents, since my parents worked long hours. I knew them as Helen (maiden name Tuhanska) and Joseph Karas. I was told my grandfather's brother was Anton Karas, the zither player who composed the music for The Third Man.

In fact, as I just learned, my grandparents' real names were Dora (maiden name Halpern) and Bernard Kluger. Dora was born in Skole and Bernard in Bukovina, and they settled in Przemysl. Anton Karas, whom I was proud to call a relation, especially in my music world, was a prop, and not a relative.

My mother, Roza Kluger ( whom I've known for 61 years as Maria Baran, nee Karas, still a shock after a month to write the other name) and her brother Zygmunt ( the only one of the family to keep his real first name) were born in Przemysl, in 1921 and 1923 respectively. Everyone is/was Jewish. In fact, my grandfather's grandfather was Shlomo Kluger, Rabbi of Brody. My grandfather's real brother was Carl Kluger, early Zionist activist and senator in Bukovina.
I emailed Roma my belief that I could not judge her parents on the lie they chose to foist on her for the past 60+ years. How can anyone know how to react amidst such horrors? How can anyone say that they would have acted differently? Her response:

I agree with your conclusion about the unimaginable effect of the Holocaust horrors. One rare story my father did tell was of finding himself in a small village as (what I now know as) an Aktion was starting. My father circled back around, and got into a cart with bodies piled up, covering himself with blood and corpses. The cart was dumped into a pit, my father included. It was growing too dark to burn/cover the bodies, and my father was able to crawl away into the woods at night.

Growing up an only child with him as my father was no picnic. I forgive him. More on the issue of living in a giant complex lie later.
BELOW: Dora and Bernard Karas/Kluger. Bernard was a sergeant in the Austrian Army, probably in the 10th regiment, 24th Division.

Roza and Zygmunt

The Klugar/Karas family:

they lost me almost as irrevocably as death...

When Roma Baran was born in 1947, her parents Jacob and Roza Baran/Cytryn made a conscious, well thought through decision to try and shield their only child from the unspeakable horror and degradation that they faced during the Shoah. They secured the help, or at least silence of the entire remaining extended family, and for over 60 years, lived a lie they never thought would be exposed.

Had a cousin not died intestate, Roma probably would have gone to the grave not knowing of her ancestors faith - and the lie would have become fact, forever. But fate intervened, and now a daughter wants to know, needs to know one simple truth - why?

What happened, physically and mentally, to cause this? What went on in her parents hearts and souls to force such a decision?

Roma will probably never fully know. Yet Pandora's box is open, so there is no choice but to look inside.

We pick up the thread with Lukasz's email to Roma

Hello Roma -

You ask me what pulled me to work with Survivors, with secrets, mysteries, lies. Because this is what we deal with during our sessions very often, here in Poland. I think it was silence, secrets, mystery. My mother learned that she is Jewish in 1946 at the age of 14. My grandfather and mother survived in Siberia. She was introduced to the truth in Przemysl, by a stranger ("and here lies your grandma" - at the Jewish cemetery). The history of Jewish secrets is older than the Shoah. I was told about our origins when I was 12, as usual here. Children, most of those I know, are told at 12 - 14. This is is age they are considered to be able to keep the secret and hide by themselves.

I became more interested in my roots when I went to Przemysl for the first time in 90's. Then I met my cousin, Maria Orwid, Przemysl ghetto survivor and psychiatrist living in Krakow. Since then we run a program for Survivors and 2nd generation. We have marathon session for Survivors - about 50 people. Next session is scheduled for mid October. We meet in Srodborow, in former post war orphanage. Not far from former orphanage named after Dawid Guzik in Otwock. Srodborow in fact is a part of Otwock. Consider yourself invited. You could meet people that learned about their origins at the age of 30, 50 ... 90 % from mixed marriages. There are a few very dramatic instances, when a daughter saved by nuns learned about her Jewish father (living across the street) a year after he died. He couldn't find her after the war because the nuns hid her really effectively ...

My fantasy is that what definitely decided about "un-subscribing" in the case of your parents was the Palestinian experience. If this guess is true, this could be very important "case" in the ... history ... I never heard of such a story when both parents were Jewish.

My daughter departs to study in Jerusalem for a year tomorrow morning. I won't be able to reply to the messages for a while ...

Cheers, Lukasz
Roma responds...
Dear Lukasz,
Thank you for your insights, they are fascinating. I’m just getting a backward glimpse into the world you see every day. But, of course, it was always there, un-named.

I spent years in therapy, discussing some early life that was a fiction. I am an only child, so I had no one to check in with who shared the experience. Now I’m just starting to interpolate the torrent of new data into my sense of my family, my life.

The horror of war experiences had functioned adequately to explain my parents’ anger, depression, anxiety, fear of sudden loss (much of which I absorbed as if it were genetic). But the revelation of the world of “secrets, mysteries and lies” my parents continued to live in every day explains so much more.

Walking into the house — as a child and even as an adult -- was like stepping into a dimly lit slippery tunnel with no safe footholds. The house was silent, and tense, with a lingering odor of impending doom. I could never get a straight answer about anything. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, left the first moment I could, and have never been very close to them.

The sad irony is that in trying to “save” me, they lost me almost as irrevocably as death.

I am very interested to hear your “un-subscribing” thoughts. I had just been thinking (every few minutes something pops into my head that starts like “wait a minute!!”) about my mother’s parents, with whom I spent many, many hours as a child. I guess I had believed my father’s anti-religious rants, and my mother’s passive few attempts to assimilate into a Christian community, as coherent with who they were.

But, wait a minute!! what about my grandparents, simple (supposedly Christian) Polish working people? What is the likelihood that they, too, both of them, were atheists, and never showed a moment of interest in, knowledge about, or even nostalgia for Christian culture, holidays, trappings?

I hope you are enjoying your daughter’s company. I am sorry that our trips to Israel will not coincide, but I am hoping to go to Poland next May, including both Warsaw and Przemysl. We have time to plan.

Best regards,
Jocelyn joins the thread...
I can well imagine that your family's experiences during the Holocaust and in Palestine could have been traumatic and deeply scarring, so much so that all the adults entered into a pact (whether spoken or unspoken) to live an alternate reality. They could even justify it, because can't anyone become a Christian? Perhaps as a protective mechanism, they even came to believe it. I have known people whose parents were survivors - some of the parents lived in supportive communities in the US or Israel and retained their strong Jewish identities; others had parents who absolutely refused to speak about the past and the horrors of the Holocaust and the people they had lost. Your parents must surely have carried with them crippling fear, overwhelming sadness and possibly suffocating guilt.
Roma replies:
Dear Jocelyn,
Thanks for the thoughts. My parents certainly did live in an alternate reality, but it was not a Christian one. I don't know why they didn't take that extra step, additional cover.

When I first went to public school in Montreal, my parents registered me as an Anglican (a fact that has raised many an eyebrow over the years). The class would say the lord's prayer, pledge to the flag, and sing a Christian hymn, like Onward Christian Soldiers. I had no idea what was going on, but joined in. When I finally came home and asked, my father had a sit down with me, as though I'd asked where babies came from. Some people are weak and stupid, he told me, and they need to believe in a fairy tale about a better life when you die. Play along, he advised. I already got that part. What does happen when you die, I asked. Dad had the answer: you rot. Later he would mock religion and thought it was the greatest evil of history.

My mother suddenly made a half-hearted attempt to get me to go to a local church with her when I was a teenager, although she never went herself. It was all about appearances in a new community. After she brought the pastor home one weekend and my father was rude, she gave up. Christmas meant a tree and presents, the end.

And now? Well, I certainly don't feel like a Christian. I now realize how utterly tenuous that part of my identity was, no belief, no cultural context, no family rituals. How could there be -- they were Jews, all of them.

I am definitely interested in Jewish history and culture, and have been reading avidly -- thanks for the site, it's just the right level for me. A friend has invited me to the Congregation Beth Simchat Torah Yom Kippur services at the Javits Center, and I'm very excited about our trip to Israel. Right now it all feels exploratory, historically and emotionally.

Warmest regards,
I am struck by the lessons Roma's story offers to assimilated Jews, like me, about the deeper meanings and personal significance of religious and cultural belonging. Are there Jewish "genes?" Do your beliefs determine who you are or does who you are determine your beliefs?

Lukasz gets the last word for this post:

This is exactly as you say - family secrets tend to "generalize", paralyzing all communication within the family. Any manifestation of openness, frankness, endangers The Secret. That's why we have troubles with 2nd generation. And the 3rd generation starts to show up. All this mess is not about the Shoah, it's about secrets. Although it all started with the Shoah. It's not Jewish specialty. Goyim, pardon le mot, have their problems - illegitimate children, grandfather a traitor, Nazi grandfather, Jewish grandma ...

Anyway, you can consider yourself lucky. At last you've learned. After countless hours on the couch it happened to be so simple. Mazl Tov !

As they say, lepiej pozno niz wcale. "Isn't it a fantastic adventure to be born again?" T'shuvah or not t'shuvah, it's pure gaiety and dance ...

I allow myself to copy this to my wifie. She is a member of Secrets Circle.


Thursday, September 11, 2008


On behalf of Jews everywhere, Jocelyn issues the formal welcome:
Dear Roma,

I am David's wife and he has been forwarding me all your email exchanges. We are fascinated by your story.

So... now that you know you are Jewish, has anyone yet taught you the word mishpochah? It means family, and it can mean your immediate family or the Jewish "family" as a whole.

So I say to you: Welcome to the mishpochah!

~Jocelyn Bowie

(yes, French first name, Scots last name, and I am a Hoosier by birth.
And Jewish. We are everywhere.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How did you find out?

After a flurry of emails, I stopped to reflect on this most amazing story. One question lingered - after 60 years, how did Roma come to know that her parents were once both Jews? So I asked:

Hi David -

I'm an attorney and music producer in NYC. I live with my partner of 17 years who is a judge.

I was born in Zabrzre, and had been told we left Poland in '49 and traveled around Europe (France, Italy, Switzerland) while we awaited US visas. After almost two years, the story went, we gave up and came to Canada, settling in Montreal when I was about 5.

My father was a civil engineer, mother a teacher. I was told the family was Protestant/Roman Catholic and I was registered in school as Anglican. I knew very little about religion, since my father was militantly atheistic. Questions about early history generated vague and abbreviated replies. I knew my father's family died during the war, including in camps and the Warsaw ghetto. When I was older and friends raised questions about how non-jews could have suffered these fates, I handed back the explanation that I was given: that many Polish civilians died as well as Jews, especially intellectuals, professionals, sympathizers, etc. When I confronted my mother, as recently as 6 years ago, before her Altzheimers overtook her, and she ran upstairs to retrieve a faded copy of her Roman Catholic marriage documents.

Exactly a month ago, I received an email from someone doing genealogical
research which contained details inconsistent with my version of reality,
such as original names, clear references to Jews, and that we had emigrated
to Canada via Israel.

I flew to Montreal, met with my mother's brother Zygmunt, and showed him the email. Out it all came, pretty shocking. Not a drop of Gentile blood on either side. Every single name changed. And, the European vacation (from when I was 2 to 4) was in fact a patriation to Israel, where we lived in abandoned British military barracks.

So I'm dealing with it like I deal with many other things: immersion. I learn as much as can and absorb information as a way to understand what it actually means to me. I woke up on August 8th as Jew, but I haven't had a Jew's life. In addition, there's the issue of having grown up in a complicated lie.

So, many thanks for getting involved in my process. You and your web work have already been woven into the fabric of my discovery.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Gettin Started

After pulling together as much data on her names as I could, I composed an reply email, copying Lukasz Biedka, a friend of this blog and a Warsaw-based psychologist specializing in holocaust family issues.

Roma's reply:

Hi David, What an amazing amount of information and leads! I'll to put something together for you that has as much information on both sides of the family as I've been able to glean in the past weeks for you to post. Your website was an inspiration for the last few days of historical/geographic research, as well as detective work!

I wrote you about my father, since the revelation started with his side of the family. By the way, his uncle was David Guzik, the director of the JDC in Poland, who, having survived the war, died in a plane crash in 1946.

In fact, my mother's family had even more connection with Przemysl. Her name as I knew it -- Maria Baran nee Karas -- is entirely invented. She is actually Ruza Kluger, daughter of Bernard and Dora Kluger, sister of Zygmunt Kluger. The Kluger family lived in Przemysl, my mother and uncle were born and grew up there. Bernard was a machinist, and Dora a seamstress and cook. Dora was from Skole (maiden name Halpern), and Bernard from Bucovina. My mother went to school in Lwow. My uncle Zygmunt who is 85 now just told me that we may be related to Shlomo Kluger, Magid of Brody. Whew! And me a gentile just 3 weeks ago!

I'm attaching an interesting document for you, my father's (forged? based on forged other document?) German Police Registration. I still have no reason to believe that the name Baran was anything but invented.

Then more from Roma:
Hi David and Lukasz,

I spoke to my maternal uncle Zygmunt today, and he had recalled quite a few more details.

My mother's family, Bernard and Dora Kluger, lived at first on Francuskiego (forgive all spellings). A man named Dinstag owned the house. It was opposite a Jewish "high school" built by the Jewish community. Then they moved to Leszynskiego (something about a house built for Jewish students?). My mother Ruza (so strange to think of her with this name!) attended a school in Warsaw to study languages, them Lwow to start medical school, probably from '38-39. My uncle attended mechanical gymnasium korkis after 7th grade. Bernard sent him away before the war to protect him, first to Hungary. He eventually found his way to Northern France and joined Canadian troops there, spent the whole war out of Poland. My grandfather Bernard Kluger had a machinist shop across the way on Leszynskiego. He did some work for "cyclop fabrika maszyn odlevna zelaza." When the Russians arrived, they seized the tools and parts from the shop and moved them elsewhere, and ordered Bernard to work there.

My mother was 19 when the war started, attractive, outgoing, spoke German, Russian, Polish and entertained with the accordion. Apparently an SS man who had taken a liking to her warned the family of an upcoming Aktion, and helped them escape. They went to Mogila, lived somewhere with a dirt floor. My mother worked in a tobacco factory. There they survived the war. (Did their change of identities happened around the move?)

Of note are two relatives:
It appears that Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody was Bernard's grandfather, ie my great-great-grandfather (wiki entry). Bernard's brother was Carl Kluger, who was a friend of Romanian Zionist Meyer Ebner, and was elected to the Bucovina Senate. Interesting story here mentions him a few times.

No idea yet how my father ended up interred in the Przemysl ghetto in '42. Perhaps he had been courting my mother?

Thanks so much for helping me with the puzzle.
Best, Roma
Lukasz responds with info:
Hello Roma,
yes, the house at 2 and 4 Frankowskiego St. belonged to Samuel Dienstag. The
Hebrew school at Tarnawskiego St., now empty, was unsuccessfully claimed two years ago. The school for young craftsmen Yad Charuzim at Leszczynskiego St now houses the orphanage. The Cyklop - Fabryka maszyn i odlewnia zelaza was very close to Frankowskiego St., at Moniuszki and Tarnawskiego St.

There are two Mogila villages - one north of Przemysl, second East of Krakow
(now Krakow suburbs). T'was more likely the latter place.

More intriguing is how he ended up in Uzhorod labour camp (it couldn't be
the ghetto in '44) ...

Best regards, Lukasz


My parents are first-generation American, my grandparents urban Galicians, fleeing chaos and pogroms in the aftermath of WWI. Their parents; shtetl Jews living in fear of Cossacks. Before that? Likely just ordinary Jewish peasants living as often unwanted guests in lands dominated by others back to time immemorial. Interesting, but why do people like me, comfortable, assimilated, western Jews study our ancestry? For me, is so that when I contemplate who and what I am, I have some historical context. Because in both genes and culture, we are, in many ways, the end result of the lives our ancestors led.

I also research to learn the fates of family members who disappeared, or were never known, in the great calamity of the Shoah. What became of my grandfather’s brother, Elia, last seen crossing the San and joining the Red Army in 1939? What of his wife and children? How can I honor their memory if I don't know their names?

Every Jew alive has some heartbreaking story of loss. Sisters, sons, and parents vanished into the Nazi death machine, entire families, gone. Here on the Przemysl blog, I give special treatment to survivors looking for lost souls, knowing that today, some fifty years after the holocaust, the odd of finding any information is very slim.

The email below arrived last week. It made me realize that their is another important category of searchers – gentiles who discover, through some revelation, that contrary to their upbringing, in complete opposition to everything they have been told, they are, in fact, of Jewish ancestry. To them, the sense of loss must be profound. Not only do they suddenly "inherit" the holocaust, but they simultaneously lose a lifetime of assumptions about where they came from. And above all, why the cloak of silence about the past? Why were they lied to? What horror happened to cause their ancestors to switch faiths?

Its my blog so I'll state my opinion: Those of us who did not live through the horrors of 1939 and on in Nazi Europe are in absolutely no position to judge the actions of those who did. Anyone who thinks that they can imagine how they would react to seeing family members tortured and murdered is simply not being honest with themselves.

Here is the email:
Dear David,

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, was in Przemysl and Bytom after the war. I am attaching the summary. I knew him (he died in 1988) as John Thomas Baran, or, in Polish, Jan Tomasz Baran, but his real name appears to have been Jakub Cytryn. His parents, Mojzesz and Masza Cytryn nee Guzik (I grew up referring to them as Boleslaw and Maria Baran) and his sisters Roma, Adela, Franceska and Sabina all perished in the war. I have traced Sabina to her death in Auschwitz in February 1943, not found any of the others. I would appreciate any advice on tracing the Przemysl connection. Thank you very much.

And so started the breathtaking story Roma Baran.

In the following posts, I will reprint (with Roma’s permission) the emails that have been flying ever since she found out about her real family history.

Please feel free to email me if you have any additional information that might be helpful to Roma, or if you simply want to comment.