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.