I'm going to keep this short today and just point out the obvious. For anyone of European Jewish Ancestry the one constant that shows up in our research and that which binds us all together is finding the "dead relatives" who died in the Holocaust. Growing up closer to my Southern Jewish part of the family I rarely heard much about the Holocaust outside of school or at Shul. My mother would whisper in hushed tones about a Great Grandmother on my father's side that she said very dramatic was "baked in the ovens" and died in the Holocaust. To small child with a writer's mind that brought up all sorts of graphic images and an early fascination with looking through Jewish History Books for the pictures of the Holocaust victims; the ones not baked in the ovens. Graphic, grainy pictures taken by soldiers often showing emaciated skeletal looking figures dressed in baggy stripped pajamas looking hollowed eyed at the soldier taking the now iconic historic pictures.
Then my mother would swoop into the room and tell me not to look at those pictures and hide the book a little higher up where she figured I wouldn't be able to reach them. Yet, she had no problem reminding me that my great grandmother was "baked in the ovens" whenever I'd remind her we didn't have much to do with the Holocaust. If you think your family that came over here in the Mid 1800s had nothing to do with the Holocaust take a walk through your DNA Ancestry results and go to JewishGen to find out information about the town on your Great Grandfather's Naturalization Forms and you become overwhelmed with a dizzying array of names, faces and children who ended up dead in the camps along with their parents, grandparents and sometimes a rare Great Grandparent that died with them in the showers. Ovens and shower stories are the names of this deck add in those who died being burned to death in their Synagogue or shot to death in graves they had to dig out in a forest somewhere on the family farm. It's depressing. It's that simple.... it's very depressing.
I know many people of European Jewish Ancestry who gave up doing family research because they could not look at one more picture of a beautiful family gathered together at a wedding celebrating joy and the future only to learn they all died in Auschwitz. You have to build up a tough exterior and know when to click on another link fast or you begin to obsess over keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. Everyone takes their own path on this subject. I, being a family of survivors who got out after the first sign of trouble during the early pogroms, choose to focus on those who survived somewhere else.
A few years ago while in the Five Towns visiting my father's elderly first cousin he showed me a picture of his Grandparents who were indeed my father's grandparents and the infamous part of my paternal family who died in the Holocaust. This beautiful, petite looking woman was my Great Grandmother Rivka Gizelle Weiss who went by Giza. She was from Satu Mare the town that gave the name to Satmar Chassidim. She married her cousin YehudaT Leib Weiss who went by Schwartz to get out of conscription in the Army. Of there many children the 3 oldest stayed in America when they all came to settle after the turn of the century. Yehuda Leib aka Leopold did not like New York City and longed for the beautiful Hungarian countryside with fresh air where people were not dying in sweat shops. Read up on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that was one of the last of a series of fires where people, often young children, died working in cranked, dangerous factories. He and Giza took the family back to Hungary and perhaps that is why there is this picture of just the younger three children; she is possibly pregnant in this picture if you study it enough. Who knows. I don't. For the first time in my life I had a name to the lady who died in her relatively old age or at a time when she was my age and should have been enjoying her many grandchildren. Luckily I am writing this from Seattle where I am enjoying a visit with my grandchildren because her son Herman (my grandfather) insisted on staying in New York City with his older married sister Sadie (Sarah) and his younger sister Mary (Malka) and that's why I am alive and my family is alive. One of the three boys below escaped into the woods and fought with the partisans and made it to Palestine to live in our holy land. My Grandfather Herman went to visit him when I was young. He, nor anyone else in the family, would talk about the relatives that died in Europe. And that was typical for many of us American Jewish kids growing up in the 1960s and 1970s.
Note that now, because I have been trying to put together the Family Tree, know that two of these cute little boys died as older men with wives and children and small babies who were all murdered by the Nazis. The surviving son Bela who in Israel became Simcha Schwartz gave testimony to Yad Vashem. I know know that Giza's mother was a Sara Lea Klein. My great grandfather lived in Badalo Hungary where the family owned a large farm and stores. Recently I found that the farm was used as a central location where they put all the Hungarian Jews from the Bereg area before shipping them off to camps. Sad but true and the type of thing you find if you are trying to research your family's tree if you have European Jewish Ancestry.
Leopold and Giza.
David, Moritz and Bella but not in that order..
My father below with my oldest son.
Leopold and Giza were his paternal grandparents.
He ended up in Miami Beach Florida davening at the Kerostir Shteeble run by the Gross family using the same prayer book his father used in the Bronx. Rabbi Gross told me several times they had Gross family members in the town of Badalo where my family was from and Rebbetzen Malka Gross called my children her "grandchildren" insisting they were. Now after doing the family tree I'm guessing Rebbetzen Gross knew more than me in ways. Karma. A boy from the Bronx only interested in baseball becomes Orthodox in his early 40s and returns to his roots. My Grandson Shmuel Ber who is named after my father and his bris was in a Satmar Shul in Boro Park as his father is a Yoely. Do this long enough and the beautiful often outweighs the sadness of the Holocaust.
I also found out that my father's mother's cousin was Henryk Neftalin who was an attorney in the Lodz Ghetto and one of the people responsible for recording all of the names and places people were alive while he tried feverishly to keep them alive and though he did not succeed and he was killed parts of those records remain.
My ex-husband's grandmother "OMI" who I ADORED was a Frank related to Anne Frank. Omi adored her grandson and the great grandchildren but she would not sit with us for Passover because her husband "OPA" insisted all would do was cry over the "dead ancestors" and no she would not talk about anything from before they came to America. The landed in the port of Seattle with their one son Leo Meyer. Leo's grandson who is my son lives in Seattle and works at a building a few doors down from where my son works today. Omi and Opa moved to LA but their grandson ended up working a few doors down from where they first lived in Seattle. Karma?
Omi and Opa.
Up on the top on the right.
Incredible, wonderful people.
They got out at the last moment and went west on the Orient Express and made their way to Seattle finally and eventually LA. Because they became the proverbial Wandering Jew my children are who they are today; they came from a mix of people who took the risk and moved and started over somewhere else. What would you have done? Do you ever wonder?
I'm going out to explore Seattle with my wonderful daughter-in-law Chani.
Every family has a story. If you don't think you do ... you haven't found the shared ancestor yet.
Ps This post was inspired by reading the post below that is awesome and amazing. Lara's Blog is excellent and humbling how hard she works and what she has achieved with genealogy. I appreciate the concept of this remembering but I worry we are preaching to the choir and those who need to read this are missing it in favor of other stories. Well, until they start trying to find out more about the 25% in their DNA results that are European Jewish and they find out that the family left behind that did not come to America in the late 1800s often ended up dying in the Holocaust.