Thursday, July 31, 2008

UNDER CONSTRUCTION




Loyal JewishGen Blog readers may have noticed that things look a bit different around here. We are currently hard at work on putting together a nice new blog design that our readers are sure to appreciate.

In the meantime, please continue to check back for updates and new articles (which will continue to be posted on a regular basis).


IMPORTANT: This post will remain ontop of the page for a while. New posts will appear directly underneath this post.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What is a Genealogy Conference Anyway?

The folks over at about.com share with us the top ten reasons why you belong at a genealogy conference - or atleast the upcoming IAJGS Jewish Genealogy conference! (access the 2010 conference site here)

Click here to read the article

Jews take control of Russian cemetery

St. Petersburg has handed over control of the city's largest Jewish cemetery to local Jewish community leaders. Dom Omoveniya, a synagogue-stylestructure, and the surrounding cemetery will be restored over the next two to three years.

The cemetery had remained in a state of disrepair for eight years before city officials approached the Jewish community. (JTA)

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Jewish Cemetery Vandalized in Eastern Slovakia

Twelve gravestones were vandalized at the Jewish cemetery in Velka Ida, Eastern Slovakia.

Attacks of vandals on Jewish cemeteries are not unique in Slovakia. In April, the police caught three youths who defaced the well-known mausoleum of
Rabbi Chasam Sofer in Bratislava.

The Jewish community in Slovakia lists almost 700 cemeteries. Vandals also deface non-Jewish cemeteries. Last month, graves of Catholic priests and monks in Pezinok, West Slovakia, were vandalized. (
CJP)

Click here for the full article.

Monday, July 28, 2008

What is JOWBR?

JOWBR is the acronym for JEWISHGEN'S ONLINE WORLWIDE BURIAL REGISTRY. JOWBR is a database of names and other identifying information from cemeteries and burial records worldwide, from the earliest records to the present.

Currently there are over a million records from over 1900 cemeteries and landsmanschaft plots all over the world.

JOWBR is a searchable database of burial records and photos of matzevot (tombstones). The database is searchable here. The contents of the database are listed here. The cemetery inventory is arranged by country, then region or state, then city. The number of burials in each country is given.

Click here to view the contents of the database.

South Moravia: Maintaining Jewish Heritage

South Moravia is a region in the Czech Republic known for many things – a sunny climate, interesting folklore and reasonably good wine. Being the most visited region of the country outside Prague, many people come for historic sights, chateaus and mediaeval castles. But few visitors realize the region along the borders with Austria and Slovakia boats a number of Jewish monuments from times long gone. Most of them now belong to the Jewish Community in Brno which has one man to take care of them – architect Jaroslav Klenovský.

After decades of neglect, Jewish monuments around the Czech Republic got a new lease of life after the fall of communism in 1989. Synagogues, Jewish streets and cemeteries were rediscovered by tourists as well as locals who began to show some interest in the dilapidated buildings in their neighbourhoods that were once proud witnesses to the vibrant life of Jewish communities. The little town of Strážnice recently saw its synagogue reopen after a long renovation project, helmed by Jaroslav Klenovský.

“The renovation of the synagogue in Strážnice has taken a long 15 years. In 1993, it was restituted to the Brno Jewish community which gave it in 2002 to the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic. The unfortunate fact that the renovation took so long was also reflected in the quality of the work, and its costs.”

Jewish settlement in Moravia took a different path from that in Bohemia. While in Bohemia, most Jewish people lived in Prague and other big cities, those in Moravia were expelled from royal towns and cities in the 15th century, and settled in small towns and villages. After Jews acquired equal rights in the Austrian Empire around mid 19th century, they moved to big cities like Brno, Olomouc, and even Vienna. I asked Jaroslav Klenovský if there were differences between synagogues in Bohemia and Moravia.

“Of course synagogues in general are often similar but there are always some regional specifics. In Moravia, these specifics are some very well preserved synagogues from the 17th and 18th century with painted interior decoration which was made by refugees from the east, from Poland and Ukraine. You won’t find synagogues like that in Bohemia. On the contrary, Bohemia has many synagogues from the historicizing period, especially using the Moorish style, such as the Jerusalem synagogue in Prague or the synagogue in Čáslav. No such synagogues have been preserved in Moravia.”

The Holocaust saw the end of Jewish life in most places in Moravia, and after the war only the Jewish community in Brno was revived. Today, most Jewish monuments in South Moravia belong to the Brno community. Apart from their own synagogue and community centre, they take care of seven synagogues and 14 cemeteries, with an annual upkeep budget of some 3 million crowns, or just over 200,000 US dollars.

“Jewish ‘real estate’ and monuments in South Moravia belong to the Brno Jewish Community and the Federation of Jewish Communities of the Czech Republic. In both cases, we have certain inside funds but that’s always only a part of the money. We always try to use all the opportunities at various offices and institutions and we apply each year for grants for the maintenance and renovation of these monuments.”

Jaroslav Klenovský, who is not Jewish himself, started working in Jewish monument care in 1980, after he graduated from the architecture programme at the Brno Technical University. He says that part of Moravian heritage was little known back then.

“Well, that story is almost 30 years old. I started working at the Brno Institute of Monument care. At the very beginning there I saw that there was a certain area which nobody was interested in. For me it was very interesting; I was drawn more and more deeply into this area, and that’s why I am so involved with Jewish monuments today.”

Today, the biggest problem with the renovation of old synagogues, cemeteries and other monuments, is acquiring sufficient funds. That is a change from the communist days, when the main issue was actually getting the authorities to approve renovation projects.

“At that time, the situation was of course completely different. There were some money back then, but there were no contractors. There was no way of restoring synagogues, either. They were all used for different purposes, mainly as warehouses. Apart from their own synagogue, the Brno Jewish Community only had cemeteries which had been neglected since 1938 and 1939. We only did basic maintenance, removing plants and bushes, and whenever a piece of a wall collapsed somewhere, it was fixed. But there was no way any systematic rehabilitation of ceremonial halls, for instance could be done. This was also due to the fact that these issues were overseen by the Communist Party officials known as ‘church secretaries’ who approved anything to do with religion, and they wouldn’t allow things like this.”

Before the war more than 360,000 Jews lived in the whole of Czechoslovakia. Today, there are an estimated 6,000 in the Czech Republic – with Brno the only city with a living community in South Moravia. Most South Moravian Jewish sights are now run by non-Jewish groups – who wishing to celebrate local heritage – use them as museums and venues for all kinds of Jewish-themed events and festivals, in towns such as Mikulov, Třebíč, Holešov and Boskovice.

“These four places are really old centres of Jewish culture in Moravia. But at the same time, these are towns where Jews don’t live anymore. The culture that’s remembered now is something that used to be there. We are in very close contact with these civic activities. I think the cooperation works fine, we try to help with the organization and the contents of such cultural events.”

Although the Czech Republic does not have a big problem with anti-Semitism, the country’s far-right groups are on the rise and last year, a group of neo-Nazis even wanted to march through Prague’s Jewish quarter on the anniversary of the Kristall Nacht pogrom. Does vandalism on Jewish sites reflect anti-Semitism?

“These acts of vandalism unfortunately occur all the time. Just yesterday we got a report from the police about an attack by vandals on the cemetery in Prostějov. From my own experience, I can say that the vast majority of these cases are not anti-Semitic but rather just plain foolishness. The teenagers who do these things in most cases have never seen a Jew in their lives; they are just fools, stupid fools who need to express themselves. But I mentioned Prostějov where the situation is a little different. There it’s homeless and unemployed people who make some extra money for alcohol by stealing metal parts of the tombstones and selling them for a couple of crown in the nearest scrap metal depot.”

As an architect who has overseen the renovation of some 70 Jewish monuments in his career, I was wondering whether Jaroslav Klenovský ever wished he designed a synagogue by himself.

“I’m afraid that is an improper question. No synagogue has been built here since from before the war, with the exception of Liberec, which was a very special case. No synagogues have been built here, and no synagogues will. That’s out of the question. But I designed renovation projects for synagogues, before as well as during the restoration works.” (Radio Prague)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Appalachia: Jewish Families Amid Coal Boon

It was a different kind of pioneering.

As coal mines in West Virginia opened for thousands of immigrant laborers in the late 1800s, a stream of peddlers brought the pots, pans and cottons of the outside world to the mining hollows. The more enterprising door-to-door men opened small stores of their own. Many were practically just off the boat. They learned English buying and selling.

Hard work, long hours and customers who were grateful to be "carried" through bad times -- it was a foothold in the golden land.

"They were drawn to Appalachia by economic opportunity," historian Deborah R. Weiner said in Wheeling the other day. "If one man was responsible for this trade, I think it would be Jacob Epstein of Baltimore."

Click here to read the entire article.

Baltimore: New Book Shows Community’s Legacy

Since the first Jewish resident emigrated to Baltimore in the mid-1700s, the Jewish community has grown to almost 100,000. In her new book, “Images of America: The Jewish Community of Baltimore,” Lauren Silberman chronicles the community’s history through images.

Silberman, 26, a Memphis native, said she created the book, which was released this week, “not only as a reference tool but as a love letter to the community.”

Silberman is the education and program coordinator at the Jewish Museum of Maryland in Baltimore. “The Jewish Community of Baltimore” includes 200 black-and-white photographs, most of which are historic. Silberman said the majority of the photos came from the Jewish Museum collection.

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Woman finds traces of family in Nazi archives

Janet Isenberg went to the recently opened Nazi archives at Bad Arolsen, Germany, to learn the fate of 163 relatives lost during the Holocaust. After a week of intensive researching with 41 other genealogists, she returned to Glen Rock sobered but renewed.

"My father was a Holocaust survivor," Isenberg, a genealogy enthusiast, told The Jewish Standard last week. She formed a passion for genealogy when she was 17. "I have been studying the history of my family for over 35 years, so when I discovered this opportunity I had to seize it," she said.

Click Here to read the full article.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ukrainian developer building mall on Holocaust grave

Ukrainian Jews are locked in a dispute with a developer they claim is building on the site of a Holocaust mass grave. Odessa's Chief Rabbi has called on Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to intervene.

A Jewish group estimates that the burial ground contains the remains of 26,000 Jews who perished during the Nazis' occupation of the city.Avrohom Wolf, the Chief Rabbi for Odessa and southern Ukraine, said the victims were executed in Autumn 1941, shortly after German troops invaded the Soviet Union.

Graves and markings now dot the area, but the site is not officially labelled a cemetery. "Construction on the site where there are bones wherever you dig cannot be called anything but blasphemy and an insult to the memory of the dead," wrote Wolf in a letter to the Prime Minster.

"It is difficult to describe how horrible it looked — hundreds and hundreds of people, hands, legs, skulls," Wolf told the Associated Press.

A spokesperson for Chabad, the local Jewish community organization, Boleslav Kapulkin, accused the developers of covering up the human remains when they were first unearthed on Monday.

According to Kapulkin, employees of the construction company building a shopping complex on the land removed bones and other remains from the site overnight. The burial ground has been put under constant police surveillance following accusations of grave-robbing and vandalism.

The government has declined to comment. (RT)

Exodus survivor makes aliyah

An 88-year-old woman who was a passenger on the Exodus in 1947 immigrated to Israel.

Frances Greenberg arrived in Israel Tuesday along with more than 200 other immigrants from North America on a flight charted by Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Greenberg, was the only family member to survive World War II.

After the Exodus was denied entry to Israel, she was sent back to Germany and met her husband, who wanted to live in the United States.

"It's time to fulfill the dream of my youth," she said. "After 60 years, I am finally coming to Israel to stay."

Some 2,000 Jews from North America and Great Britain will make aliyah this summer under the auspices of Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Some 450 new immigrants from France were scheduled to arrive in Israel Wednesday on three separate flights under the auspices of the Jewish Agency and the French AMI association. (JTA)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Germany probes overlooked Nazi massacre in France

For most of France, Aug. 25, 1944, was the joyous day that Allied troops liberated Paris from the Nazis. For this village in the Loire valley, it was a day of horror...

Retreating German troops massacred 124 of Maille's 500 residents then razed the town, possibly in retaliation for Resistance action in the region, according to local archives. Forty-four children were among the dead, the youngest just 4 months old.

Now a German investigator is drawing new attention to the forgotten chapter of World War II. Dortmund prosecutor Ulrich Maass began a three-day visit to Maille on Tuesday to interview survivors and dig through archives as part of his probe into the killings.

"I am ashamed about what the Germans did here, and I apologize," Maass told townspeople.

Mauricette Garnier, who was 9 at the time, recalled that when local people heard gunfire that day, many initially thought it was part of the celebrations as news traveled from Paris about the liberation.

Her mother and two brothers were among those slain in the village.

"I saw them slit the throat of my 20-month-old brother, and kill my mother at close range," she said. "I will never forgive. This inquiry comes much too late."

A Nazi officer, Gustav Schlueter, was convicted in absentia for his role in the killings by a military court in Bordeaux in 1952. Maass, who has been investigating the case since 2004, said Schlueter died at home in Germany in 1965. Other soldiers' roles remain unclear.

Philippe Varin, prosecutor in the nearby French city of Tours, said Maass and a police superintendent from the German city of Stuttgart would have help from French gendarmes as they try to identity Nazi units and any individuals with a role in the massacre.

He said it was "the first time a German judicial delegation has come on French soil to carry out investigations into war crimes."

In Germany, it is not unusual for investigators to probe crimes going back to Nazi days. In one current case, German prosecutors plan to seek the extradition of alleged former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk from the United States to prosecute him on charges that he was involved in killing Jewish prisoners at the Sobibor death camp.

Any suspects in the Maille case could be charged with murder - the only World War II-era crime on which the statute of limitations has not elapsed in Germany.

Townspeople have long said retaliation was the motive for the attack, and Maass said that was his main hypothesis. Claude Daumin, who was 10 at the time, said the event that triggered the massacre was the killing of an SS officer and his driver by local Resistance fighters.

"For 64 years, everybody knows what happened - these were reprisals," he said. "And they are saying so only now. It doesn't do any good."

The massacre in Maille was the second worst atrocity in Nazi-occupied France, after the Germans killed 642 men, women and children at Oradour-sur-Glane on June 10, 1944 - four days after the D-Day landings in Normandy.

Maille was rebuilt after the war, but Oradour-sur-Glane remains a phantom village, with burned-out cars and abandoned buildings left as testimony to its history. The town's fate is widely taught in French schools, while Maille's has largely been forgotten.

"You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books that mention the massacre in Maille," said historian Sebastien Chevereau, who runs Maille's museum and archives. Now, "at least, the suffering of the inhabitants is being recognized."

Leningrad siege survivors to receive amend

After seven years of negotiations, the German government has agreed to allocate a one-time payment to some of the Jewish survivors of the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II...

...the New York-based Claims Conference announced Sunday.

The "historic" agreement will provide thousands of Jewish victims of Nazism from the former Soviet Union, now living in Israel, the United States, Germany and other Western countries with a payment of €2,556 or NIS 15,000, the organization said.

The accord was expected to affect about 6,000 people, a conference spokeswoman said.

The agreement marks the first time that the persecution of Jews who lived through the 900-day siege of Leningrad has been recognized by Germany.

According to the accord, women over the age of 60 and men over the age of 65 are eligible for the benefits.

The non-Jewish survivors of the siege are eligible for benefits worked out with Germany in a separate agreement.

The siege of Leningrad, which lasted from September 9, 1941, to January 18, 1943, was one of the longest and most destructive sieges of a major city in modern history.

During the siege, the Nazis cut all water and power while subjecting residents to constant air attacks and artillery bombardment. The population of about 3 million was left to starve and freeze to death.

An estimated 1m. residents died during the siege.

As German forces advanced toward Leningrad in 1941, Jewish residents tried to move as close as possible to the center of the city. Those Jews who were unable to flee from the Nazis and stayed in territories that became occupied were tortured and killed. The largest Nazi massacre of Jews occurred in Pushkin, a suburb of Leningrad, where a group of 800 Jews were gathered in a palatial cellar, and then shot to death in a nearby park.

The agreement comes amid mounting public criticism of the Claims Conference following a series of journalistic investigations into the lack of accountability and transparency at the organization. The agency has also been censured for spending too much on education and research projects, and not enough on helping destitute survivors.

About 250,000 Holocaust survivors are living in Israel.

About one-third of them - primarily new immigrants from the former Soviet Union - live in poverty, recent Israeli welfare reports have found, prompting a recent landmark government accord to increase their state stipends.

The full criteria for eligibility can be found on the Internet at http://www.claimscon.co.il or by contacting the Claims Conference offices in New York, Tel Aviv or Frankfurt. (JPOST)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Success! Discovering Grandparents And A Half-Sister – All During The First Two Week's Of Class!

As many of you know, I offer the JewishGen Basic Genealogy Course. I am always inspired and amazed by the family connections that are made as a result of taking this online, easy to follow class. As the course continues during the summer, I plan to post updates on our progress and interesting stories from the class.

The story below comes from a person who is currently enrolled in the Basic Genealogy Course. Before reading this, remember that the course only began 2 weeks ago! Enjoy, be inspired and feel free to leave your own inspiring stories in the comment section below. Who knows, you may just be the subject of my next post!

Here is the story:

“Since signing up for this basic genealogy class I have been on an amazing journey which I would like to share with you. When I made my first post to the forum to see if there was any information about my grandparents, Harry and Gussie Schrieber I was hopeful but did not expect an immediate response from Annette Stolberg who is on the JewishGen Index team.

She responded that she knew my grandparents!

We compared information. I had the 1920 and 1930 census data and their naturalization papers. Since she grew up in Rochester, where my grandparents settled, she was able to give me amazing leads. We spoke on the phone. She did detective work for me, calling cousins I did not know I had. She was able to give me phone numbers (with their permission) and I spoke to my first cousin who told me where my grandparents are buried but most importantly she told me I have a half sister I had no idea about! My half sister Susan has been searching for me her whole life. When we talked it was the best and happiest moment. She lives in San Francisco.

We are planning a visit soon.

But this weekend I will meet family in Rochester and visit the graves of my father and grandparents. And I will meet Annette who made this all possible.”

The Frugal Traveler: Vilnius

Karen Franklin (co-chair of the JG Board of Governors) points us to fascinating article from the New York Times. Click here to read the article.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Torturous Day for Humanity

I awoke early this morning and ran to my computer. I was looking, praying, that the news would greet me with joyous video clips and pictures of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser returning home to the warm, tearful embraces of their family. Instead, I saw the AFP headline: “Hezbollah hands over dead Israeli soldiers in swap”. I clicked over to the Jerusalem Post, and saw the devastating headline: “Hizbullah transfers two coffins to Israel”.

This blog is not political, and will not focus on political debate. But let us not limit ourselves to researching the devastation and the attempted destruction of world Jewry that occurred over 50 years ago in Europe. Today two families joined thousands of others who have experienced personal holocausts, where their own personal world has been destroyed. Were these two soldiers not the entire world to their family and friends?

There will yet be time for consolation and moving forward, but today is a time for weeping, mourning and reflection.

We will never forget.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Grodno Synagogue to Undergo Restoration


In the Belarus city of Grodno, work has commenced on the restoration of the Great Choral Synagogue, which an historic building whose significance goes much beyond that since it, of course, is also a spiritual center for Jews of this region.

Namely, it is the building's façade that will undergo these construction works. This project is not only of interest to members of the Jewish community, but has attracted quite a lot of attention from other local residents. Located in the heart of the city, this building is recognized here as both a site of historical and architectural importance. The news about the reconstruction was welcomed by all.

The Grodno Great Choral Synagogue was built in the sixteenth century and is considered to be the oldest active Synagogue in the entire CIS, inclusive of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. "We are interested in restoring this Synagogue and monumentalizing the memory of Jews who resided and now reside in the city of Grodno," explained Chief Rabbi of Grodno Yitzchak Kofman.

The Jewish community of Grodno, a full member of the Association of Jewish Communities of Belarus, expresses its appreciation to the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS for its assistance. Large gratitude also goes to the Rohr Family Foundation, whose financial support has made the Synagogue's restoration possible.

Headed by Messrs. George and Sami Rohr of New York and Miami respectively, the Rohr Family Foundation is one of the two largest benefactors of Jewish life in the FSU, having backed the construction and renovation of synagogues, JCCs and mikvaot in dozens of cities in multiple countries, in addition to providing salaries and living expenses for nearly 200 Lubavitch rabbis and their families serving locally, thus relieving emerging Jewish communities of a major financial burden.
Click here for pictures. (FJC)

Zimbabwe expats use reunion to plead cause of Jews peers

A reunion of 281 Zimbabwean expatriates living in Israel was held in Ra'anana last week to raise funds and awareness as to the precariousness of the situation in their former country. Ironically, the number represented more Zimbabwean Jews than in all of Zimbabwe today.

Dave Bloom, vice chairman of Telfed, the South-African Zionist Federation that also represents Zimbabwe, and himself a native of then Rhodesia (Rhodesia changed its name to Zimbabwe in 1980 when Robert Mugabe became president), spoke to the crowd about a community in a "battle to maintain themselves in a country that's all but collapsed economically and politically."

He announced that $300,000 had been raised through the Joint Distribution Committee, World Jewish Relief and Chai South Africa, but that more was needed.

The African Jewish Congress (AJC) in Johannesburg has been at the forefront of these efforts and coordinates sending supplies and provisions by truck over the border.

Funds raised have gone towards buying generators and community upkeep, but mostly they are going towards buying food and basic provisions, like medicine, that are becoming increasingly scarce in Mugabe's Zimbabwe. However, a community member noted the cost of kosher meat and the ability of getting a kosher butcher from South Africa has made it increasingly rare in the recent past.

Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the AJC's spiritual leader and coordinator of its Zimbabwe efforts, explained the biggest concern was to ensure that the members of the Jewish community, and the people that work for them in their homes, are taken care of "in a manner that is respectful and sustainable." Asked if he was confident the AJC could meet this concern amid the current period of turmoil and uncertainty, he answered, "Absolutely."

Silberhaft noted, however, that raising money is becoming the biggest obstacle. "The demands on us are increasing on a weekly basis," he said.

Paul Hammer, who left Zimbabwe five years ago with his four daughters, explained at the reunion that it was the inability to obtain that quality of life and services that the AJC is trying to maintain that proved the tipping point in persuading him to say goodbye to the land of his childhood.

His daughters were not getting the quality of education or health care he felt appropriate, and blamed the country's failing economy. "All the professionals fled from the hyperinflation," he noted.

Still in touch with a few Jewish friends who have remained behind, Hammer calls the situation in Zimbabwe today "a disaster." Bloom explained those hardest hit were individuals, Jewish or other, living on fixed incomes.

"They are trapped by the fact that their money has disappeared," he said.

"But we live in hope," said Hammer, trying to sound upbeat that the present hardships would pass one day and that individuals and families still in Zimbabwe, Jewish or not, would overcome the present catastrophe.

However, he, along with Bloom said they did not feel the situation would change in the foreseeable future, economically or politically.

"I would be surprised if there would ever be any resuscitation of the community over there," said Bloom.

However, a community resident who plans to stay in Zimbabwe unless things become completely unbearable believes the backbone of a future community will be made up of mostly former Israelis who go to work temporarily in agriculture. "It won't be as when people lived their lives here," he said, "but there will be Jews." (JPOST)

Monday, July 14, 2008

ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

"I don't believe one person can make a difference, so I am not going to do…….!" We have heard this asserted numerous times. Is it the truth or just an excuse, a cop-out?

I believe in all certitude that one person can make a difference, and I want to describe two instances in which this has happened with volunteers for JewishGen's Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR).

Over a year ago I was invited to give a talk on JewishGen to a synagogue in Indianapolis, IN. My talk focused on various JewishGen programs but mostly on JOWBR. The group, with a number of Holocaust survivors interested in genealogical databases, listened intently and I was interrupted often with excellent questions, some of them quite emotional. The attendees were obviously eager to learn more about genealogy and resources on JewishGen. When I started to talk about JOWBR and about my vision of how a synagogue or a whole town, with multi-generational participants, could be involved in cataloging Jewish cemeteries and photographing matzevot, the air became electric. Soon everyone was talking and asking questions and sharing ideas about organizing all the synagogues to help. It became apparent that all were looking to one person, Gloria Green, also known as GG, who seemed to have the organizational and interpersonal skills and the respect of the attendees to pull off a city-wide effort of the Jewish community. With no hesitation she agreed to be the liaison and started organizing committees on the spot.

This Spring she organized teams—often composed of parents and their children—to visit seven of the eight Jewish cemeteries, some no longer in use—to photograph the matzevot. Others entered the data from the inscriptions into JOWBR spreadsheets. The eighth cemetery, a Sephardic cemetery, had already been photographed and data put online.

In the previous winter months, volunteers had gone to the mortuary that performs most of the Jewish burials in Indianapolis to photocopy their burial records. These records were used to cross-check burials against the actual matzevot and the data from these burial records were added to spreadsheets for ease of search.

Gloria has told me that she wishes she could do this full-time. [I wish she could, too.] Her husband says that organizing the JOWBR project has given her a burst of energy and excitement and renewed commitment to Jewish organizational life.

Last weekend Gloria emailed me about a situation which showed her first-hand the value of JOWBR. One of her volunteer photographers and her daughter had spent a Sunday afternoon digitally photographing a cemetery. When she sent the photos to GG, she asked whether GG had already entered the data for cemetery X where one of her grandfathers was buried. GG said this man was not listed in that cemetery but he was listed in another cemetery and she would send her the photo of the matzeva (tombstone). There were protestations that this could not be so, but GG sent her the photo and the burial record, with the exact location of the grave.


As GG noted in her email to me, this person could have been walking all over the wrong cemetery looking for her relative and becoming frantic when she couldn't find the grave. Now, with a quick search of JOWBR, she will have complete information on the exact location of the grave and a digital image of the tombstone. About 6,000 burial records from Indianapolis and almost the same number of tombstone images will soon be uploaded to JOWBR.

The second example of a volunteer who made a difference is that of Terry Lasky, who had taken it upon himself to index all the cemeteries in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico and Manitoba, He was doing such a magnificent job that I asked him if we could talk on the phone about his taking on more states, using the model he had developed.

It isn't always that a well-organized and committed volunteer with enormous organizational talents shows up, and such persons have to be given additional responsibilities to keep them interested. He agreed eagerly and then emailed me about the states he would attack and how he would do this. Currently, Terry is coordinating the indexing of Jewish burial records in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alaska (one small cemetery),Fargo, North Dakota, and one cemetery in Moldova. He is willing to do more, but needs a brief rest as he has just coordinated the raising of funds to photograph all the tombstones in Orhei, Moldova. He has received the photographs and now the translation of the inscriptions will be underway. When all this work on U.S. and Moldovan cemeteries is completed, Terry will have organized the addition of 60,000 burial records and 30,000 photographs to JOWBR!

There are many other individuals who have been responsible for contributions of large numbers of burial records and we will recognize them in subsequent blog posts.

I can never again hear that "one person can't make a difference" without disputing that assertion. JewishGen in particular and Jewish genealogy in general are enriched by these dedicated volunteers who motivate and organize others to take part in important projects vital to preserving our Jewish heritage.

If you have any ideas, or would like to volunteer, please post a comment in the "comments" section below. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

New info indicates 'Dr. Death' in Chile or Argentina

There is new evidence Dr. Aribert Heim, the most wanted Nazi in the world, is living in Chile or Argentina, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Thursday.

The search for Heim, 94, a former Austrian physician also known as "Dr. Death" who tops the Wiesenthal Center's list of "most wanted Nazis," has spanned nearly half a century since his disappearance in Germany in 1962 ahead of planned prosecution for war crimes.

"We have received information from two sources that has strong potential to locate Heim," Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter and Israel director said in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post from Chile.

During their South American trip to locate the top Nazi, Zuroff and the center's Latin America Director Sergio Widder were separately accosted by middle aged men in Chile who told them to leave the country and to stop killing Palestinians, which they dubbed "the real genocide." The incidents ended without violence.

Attempts to broker a meeting between the Zuroff and Heim's daughter Waltraud, who lives in the southern Chilean city of Puerto Montt, and who is thought to have information about her father have not been successful, Zuroff said.

His daughter has previously said that her father died in 1993 in Argentina, but never provided a certificate of death or accepted her inheritance from his property.

A €1 million bank account in his name is active in Berlin, which Heim's children could have received if they proved he is dead.

A reward of €316,000 is being offered jointly by the center and the German and Austrian governments for information leading to Heim's arrest.

In the interview, Zuroff said he did not expect to nab Heim on his current two-week visit, which include meetings with government officials and ad campaigns in Chilean and Argentinian newspapers, but that he hopes the effort bears fruit in the near future.

"We are putting into place the tools to have him handed over in the coming weeks or months," Zuroff said.

Heim was indicted in Germany for murdering hundreds of inmates by lethal injection at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was camp doctor during the Holocaust.

After World War II, he was held for two and half years by the US military but was released without being tried.

Heim disappeared in 1962 after being tipped off that an indictment was imminent. (Source: JPOST)

A Microcosm of the Afterlife: The Catskills' Four Seasons Lodge


When Andrew Jacobs heard about a bungalow colony of Holocaust survivors on Geiger Road in the Catskills, his mind unleashed a series of pardonable stereotypes. “I imagined a band of beaten-down octogenarians, embittered by their pasts, whiling away their final days in decrepit lawn chairs,” the New York Times staff write r remembered. But when he arrived at the Four Seasons Lodge he was surprised to discov er a social scene that “would have put a teenaged prom crowd to shame;” nearly 100 men and women “elegantly dressed in evening wear,” were dancing to “a tuxedo-clad band that played disco classics as effortless as Polish pre-war tangos.”

Jacobs owned a dairy farm not far from Four Seasons, and he was working on a six-part series for the Times about summers in the Catskills. He wrote about the group, which has been spending summers together for more than 25 years, in “Where 80 Is Young, All Friends Are Old Friends” (September 8, 2005), where he observed that the survivors were “determined to enjoy summers alongside others who have lived through the unimaginable.”

Survivors dancing at Four Seasons Lodge.

When he learned that the colony was slated to be sold – Chassidim are the only buyers, and they offered $2 million to buy a different bungalow colony, according to Jacobs’ article – he decided to return to observe the group’s final summer. “A book, I thought, could never capture these remarkable characters and their intensely communal lives,” he said; “a longer newspaper article would not do justice to their astonishing embrace for life, and the darkness that shadowed them even when they were laughing.” So the man who had never before made a film decided he had found fodder for his first documentary.

“Four Seasons Lodge” is not your typical Holocaust documentary. On the one hand, there is the plot of the people who survived the death camps now struggling to save their summer camp, which they call “our paradise in the mountains.” Meanwhile, these individuals are straight out of the “Twilight Zone”: a quickly fading demographic clinging to a summer lifestyle that seems to have outlived its usefulness. Though bungalow communities initially offered New Yorkers a way to flee the city’s hot summers, today’s air conditioning and more globalized travel ambitions have left bungalows to become ghost towns.

Survivors’ minyan at Four Seasons Lodge.

But ghost towns apparently are very welcoming to people haunted by ghosts. In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, firemen, or more accurately arsonists, are employed by the State to destroy books, and it takes exceptional individuals to thwart this anti-intellectual campaign. They succeed, in part, by memorizing books, and each comes to identify with the work he or she preserves. The differences between Bradbury’s fictive human books and the very real stories of the summer visitors to Four Seasons Lodge surely extend far beyond the fact that the characters commit other people’s stories to memory, while the survivors remember their own experiences. But like Bradbury’s resistance fighters, these Holocaust survivors had to not only survive, but also to rebuild their lives after the war. “No psychiatrist in the world can heal you from that,” one man says in the documentary. “It always comes back to you. You live with this.”

“Four Seasons Lodge” is so successful for a variety of reasons. Like David Lean’s 1962 film, “Lawrence of Arabia,” which was arguably as much about sunrises and the desert as it was about T. E. Lawrence, the cinematography of “Four Seasons Lodge” (Albert Maysles, Gimme Shelter, and Grey Gardens) juxtaposes very intense discussions and human interactions with gorgeous shots of the rain, of umbrellas on porches, and of the Catskills landscape. It also fuses the past and the present through old photographs that show how far the survivors have come and how different their lives have become.

Survivors engage in a game of cards at Four Seasons Lodge.

Jacobs’ journalistic skills show through as well, and a lesser writer and director might not have been able to tease out such interesting – though also sad, terrifying, and depressing – conversations. One man tells of reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (in Polish translation) in the mid-1930s and crying for the injustice as he wondered how anyone could enslave other people. Little did he know what was in store for him and his family.

In another scene, two men sitting outside hear some music. “In Auschwitz there was always music,” one remembers, “a Stradivarius, and a fiddle. You know what it is, a fiddle?” (He pronounces it “feedal”.) The other nods, and adds, “But later they killed them too.” A different man who was forced to repair Nazi officials’ cars shows a postcard he took from the glove compartment of Hitler’s Maybach. The postcard contains a picture of the Gestapo restraining a bearded Jew wearing a tallit, as they cut off his side curls, or payos.

Old friends meeting again for the summer at Four Seasons Lodge.

As is to be expected, the survivors do not agree on everything. A theological debate breaks out while several of the men and women are cleaning fish. “I believe in food. I believe in eating,” the conversation starts, though it quickly turns to “I didn’t see the miracles.” “I look, I look for G-d ... and I can’t get ahold of Him. Maybe he is asleep,” says one man, who questions where G-d was during the Holocaust. “I do believe there is a G-d,” a woman insists. “You can’t believe in nothing,” she says of the non-believer, “You know what he is? A yeshiva bochur. He used to have payos!”

But even though some struggle with their beliefs, the camera captures the women lighting Shabbat candles, and the men reciting havdallah. This community began of necessity (several of the survivors address the difficulties of finding a community after the War), but the viewer gets the feeling that it continued to sustain itself for so long, through resilience that is about both having fun during the summer and deeper religious motivations. “This is our revenge on Hitler. To live this long, this well, is a victory,” says Fran Lask, 82, a survivor of Bergen-Belsen.

One of the most important lines in the film might be one woman’s observation, “Life can be beautiful even when it’s not so easy.” Coming from a community of survivors who happily drink “l’chaim” on soda, orange juice, and their medicine, this is not to be taken lightly. It takes a special group of people to create their own afterlife and an even more special group of people that can still fight to protect that “paradise in the mountains” well into its 80s and 90s. (Source: JewishPress.com)

Four Seasons Lodge

Directed by Andrew Jacobs

2008, Rainlake Productions, 110 minutes

http://fourseasonsthemovie.com/

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tajikistan synagogue destroyed


Tajikistan's only synagogue has been reduced to a pile of rubble, leaving the small cluster of Bukharan Jews in the Central Asian nation in bureaucratic limbo. After four years of threats from officials and counter-proposals from the community, the city government of Dushanbe, the nation's capital, finished demolishing the one-story shul last month to make way for a new presidential palace and national park.

"Right now, the community has practically no place at all," Chief Rabbi Mikhail Abdurakhmov told JTA. "Everyone is praying in their own home," he said of the community, estimated at about 350, with 200 actively participating in Jewish life. There are conflicting reports over whether new land has been designated for a new synagogue.

Abdurakhmov said the community has been given no guarantee of a new plot of land and no promise of compensation.
But Lev Levayev, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities and head of the World Congress of Bukharan Jews, told the Interfax news agency that a new plot of land has been set aside for the shul. He said that construction would begin soon with funding by the Chabad-led federation, the Bukharan congress and private donors.

Levayev, who visited the city as the final wall of the 100-year-old synagogue fell, spoke with Tajik President Emomali Rahmonov about the synagogue.
"The removal of a synagogue is a very subtle and delicate question that we will discuss with the president at the end of September," Levayev said.

A spokesman for the Moscow center for Bukharan Jews said he could not elaborate on the continuing discussions between the Tajik government and Levayev.
Despite Levayev's promises that "there will be no problems with funding," local leaders -- distressed by the years-long battle with the city administration -- are more circumspect about the future. Levayev's itinerary did not include a visit with Abdurakhmov, who said he first heard about the plans for a new synagogue through a local newspaper that he doesn't trust.

The Tajik media is tightly controlled by the government, with few independent sources of information.
Abdurakhmov said he hasn't been able to confirm the existence of the new plot and hasn't spoken with anyone from the federation about a new synagogue.

The federation, an umbrella group that has built most of the new synagogues in the former Soviet Union, including those in Central Asia, normally does not undertake such projects for communities with fewer than 1,000 members.
The nearest Chabad rabbi is based in neighboring Uzbekistan.

The community is mostly descended from Persian-speaking Bukharan Jews who have lived in Central Asia for centuries, Abdurakhmov said. The eviction and demolition has halted not only prayer services but also a food aid program to feed infirm and poor Jews.

The top local official responsible for citizens' rights did not respond to requests for an interview. But the official, Yusuf Salimov, told a religious rights monitoring group, Forum 18, that the community had yet to exhaust its legal options seeking compensation. "Let them write to us about it," he said of the group.


In 2004, city authorities rejected a proposal to overhaul the synagogue and make it part of the park complex.
After negotiations, the city offered a plot of land in a remote area to build a new complex; local leaders said the location was impractical for the aging and dwindling community. The eviction order remained, and the community challenged it in court, seeking compensation along with a new plot of land, which they had no success of securing without Levayev's backing.

The first wave of demolition came in February 2006, when city authorities leveled a mikveh, or ritual bath, a classroom and kosher butchery.
In April, a district administrative court ruled that the demolition would go forward and that the community was not eligible for a new plot of land under the law. That court upheld a previous ruling ordering the community to vacate the synagogue by May 28, when a city engineer showed up with a bulldozer to begin the demolition, Abdurakhmov said. (JTA)

Yiddish-Belarusian dictionary published

The first new Yiddish-Belarusian language dictionary in the last 76 years was published in Belarus.

The dictionary, researched and written by Yiddish expert Alexander Astrauh, was published using private donations.

The book contains 50,000 words. Quotes from literature of both cultures, songs, illustrations and jokes are also included. Only 1,000 volumes have been published.

Work on the dictionary took 10 years. While working on the project, Astrauh studied dictionaries that were published in different countries in the 20th and 21st centuries, according to the Belapan News Agency.

It is the second Yiddish-Belarusian dictionary in the country's history. The first, which included 8,000 words, was published in 1932.

A collection containing 100,000 Yiddish words created by the Jewish sector of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences between 1920 and 1930 was destroyed during World War II. (JTA)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Nazi hunter looking for 'Dr. Death' in S. America

The chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center headed to South America on Sunday in a final public campaign to locate the most wanted Nazi in the world and bring him to justice.

The search for Dr. Aribert Heim, 94, the former Austrian doctor also known as "Dr. Death" who tops the Wiesenthal Center's list of "most wanted Nazis," has spanned nearly half a century since his 1962 disappearance in Germany ahead of a planned prosecution for his war crimes.

Heim was indicted in Germany on charges that he murdered hundreds of inmates by lethal injection at the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was the camp's doctor during the Holocaust.

"Our working assumption is that Heim is hiding somewhere in Chile or Argentina," said Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter and Israel director in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post ahead of his departure.

Zuroff conceded that this would likely be the "final push" to uncover the nonagenarian, despite his status as the world's number one Nazi suspect.

"We feel we are approaching the end of the line," he said.

The Nazi hunter noted that Heim's daughter lives in the southern Chilean city of Puerto Montt, and that she is the most likely to be in contact with her father, or at least have information about his whereabouts.

His daughter had previously said that her father died in 1993 in Argentina, but she never provided a certificate of death or accepted his inheritance.

A one million Euro bank account in his name is active in Berlin, which Heim's children could have received if they had proved he was dead.

During his trip, Zuroff will be holding a press conference in Puerto Montt in a "final attempt" to reach anyone who has information about his current whereabouts.

"We are going into her backyard," he said.

The German and Austrian governments and the Wiesenthal Center are jointly offering 316,000 Euros, or about half a million US Dollars, for information that will lead to Heim's arrest and prosecution by the German Government.

In the interview, Zuroff said that he did not expect to nab Heim on his current visit, which will include meetings with government officials and ad campaigns in Chilean and Argentinean newspapers, but hopes that the effort will bear fruit in the near future.

"We are putting into place the tools to have him handed over in the coming weeks or months," Zuroff said.

Last week, he blasted a German judge for repeatedly refusing to allow investigative measures requested by the special police task force to find Heim which are routinely approved in murder cases in Germany, and said that the judge's "obstructionist" moves have contributed to the failure to capture the wanted Nazi.

"Documents which we have obtained clearly indicate that the efforts of the German police to find Dr. Heim are being consistently hampered by Judge Hans-Richard Neerforth's refusal to approve routine investigations which are allowed as a matter of course by all judges in murder cases in Germany," Zuroff said.

"We urge the German judicial authorities to find a way to circumvent these obstructive decisions to help facilitate the capture of Dr. Heim so that he can finally be brought to justice for his heinous crimes," he said. (JPOST)

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Yizkor Book Project Report - June 2008

During June 2008 the Yizkor Book Project added two new books, four new entries, and 13 updates. All the monthly additions have been flagged here to make it easy for researchers to find them.

New Books
  • Rymanow, Poland: necrology donated by Yad Vashem
  • Telsiai, Lithuania:necrology donated by Yad Vashem

New Entries:

Updates:
  • Bedzin, Poland
  • Bialystok, Poland
  • Brzeziny, Poland
  • Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland
  • Dusetos, Lithuania
  • Kalusz, Ukraine
  • Pinsk, Belarus: necrology donated by Yad Vashem
  • Radzyn Podlaski,Poland
  • Rokiskos, Lithuania
  • Sanok, Poland
  • Svencionys, Lithuania
  • The Last of the Freibergs
  • Vas, Hungary

We can never give sufficient praise to all the donors and volunteer
project coordinators of yizkor book translations and to the remarkably
talented and devoted volunteer staff of the Yizkor Book Project,
without whom this site would not be possible. If you appreciate the
results of the work by these volunteers, please help them by donating
to the projects listed here as well as to the JewishGen General Fund, listed here.

Please contact me personally if you would like to start a new translation project or donate funds for the translation of an article of your ancestral town in the Pinkas HaKehillot volumes.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Joyce Field
JewishGen VP, Data Acquisition

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Israeli museum announces restitution for artifacts

Israel's national museum said Tuesday that a Polish noble family has received compensation for
two 1,700-year-old medallions that were seized by Nazis during World War II.

Under the arrangement, the medallions bearing Jewish symbols will remain on display in the museum. It repurchased one medallion from the heirs, and a donor purchased the second and gave it to the museum on a long-term loan.

None of the sides would divulge the sums paid for the medallions.

Emblazoned with lions of Judah and a seven-branched candelabra, the medallions are among the earliest pieces found outside Israel bearing images linked to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum.

The medallions — made of gold foil inside blown glass — were buried in Jewish graves in the catacombs of Rome in the 3rd or 4th century, Snyder said.

A third medallion, which bears the image of a duck and a fruit basket, is being returned to the heirs.

All three medallions were part of a collection of thousands of antiques, paintings, tapestries and other artifacts that Countess Isabella Dzialynska amassed in the 1800s and kept at her castle in Goluchow, Poland.

"We absolutely decided that because they were of such extraordinary importance to the museum, we were very keen for a way to be found for them to remain there," said Count Adam Zamoyski, the countess's great-great-nephew, adding he was "very pleased" with the agreement.

The Nazis seized the collection in 1941 after invading Poland, then moved them on Hitler's orders to an Austrian castle.

There, they were looted after the Nazi defeat in 1945 and scattered to museums, dealers and private collections all over the world, according to the London-based Commission for Looted Art in Europe, which represents Dzialynska's heirs.

The medallions had turned up in Vienna in the 1960s and were purchased for the Israel Museum. The commission approached the museum four years ago upon discovering the medallions were in its collection and negotiated the restitution agreement.

The family spent years scouring Germany and Austria for its lost art after the war, then largely stopped looking, Zamoyski said. The search, he said, got under way again in earnest in the 1980s, when awareness of looted art became more widespread and museums became more forthcoming about such pieces in their collections.

Numerous artifacts have surfaced over the years. Most recently, a 13th-century enamel cross located in Austria was returned to the family two months ago.

Worldwide, experts say anywhere between 250,000 and 600,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis were never claimed and remain in the possession of museums, governments and private collectors. In its nine years of work, the Commission for Looted Art in Europe has restored 3,000 pieces to their owners, said Anne Webber, the commission's co-chair.

"Because for many people the loss of their art represented the loss of their lives, the lives they had, to return it to people returns something of that life to them," Webber said.

Over the years, the Israel Museum has returned some 20 pieces looted by the Nazis and claimed by heirs, including Camille Pissarro's "Boulevard Montmartre: Spring" in 2000. The original owners' heirs agreed to leave the painting on display at the museum, accompanied by an explanation of its history. (AP)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Greek Jews warn metro works could disturb cemetery

The head of Greece's Jewish community warned Monday that work on a new metro line for the northern city of Salonika risks disturbing the remains of a historic Jewish cemetery.
   
"The entire area was once a Jewish cemetery. In-depth excavation is certain to hit upon graves and remains," Moses Constantinis, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities (KIS), told AFP. 
We would not want the peace of the dead to be disturbed. In our religion, it is a sin to move the dead after burial." 
The metro tunnels will run well beneath the cemetery, but one station will surface near the Aristotelio University library, where excavation has unearthed the remains of Jewish funerary monuments, community sources say. 
"We would like the area studied, and if excavation interferes with the cemetery, which we believe it does, then to avoid building (the station) or move it to a different location," Constantinis said. 
The issue was raised last week during a visit to Greece by the US special envoy for Holocaust issues, Ambassador J. Christian Kennedy. 
The Jewish cemetery, one of the largest in Europe, was razed in 1942 during the German wartime occupation of Greece. 
Two decades later, the cemetery site was built on during an expansion of Aristotelio University. 
Founded more than five centuries ago, the cemetery is believed to have held more than 300,000 graves. 
Construction work on the Salonika metro began last summer, more than a decade after plans for an underground train were first floated by local authorities. It is scheduled to be completed in 2012. 
Home to a thriving Sephardic Jewish community of around 50,000 people
before World War II, Salonika was once known as the "Jerusalem of the Balkans."    
Virtually all of the city's Jews perished in Nazi extermination camps.  
The Greek Jewish community now numbers around 6,000 people. (Source: EJP)
***For further information, click here