Thursday, April 30, 2009

An 1871 Travelers’ Guide on the European Continent

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

One of the many delights of utilizing the Internet of late is that there are many digitized or e-books which are now on-line.  Recently, I was searching for information on Tilset, when it was under Prussian rule, and found a very interesting website utilizing Google Books.
The book is entitled “A Handbook for Travellers on the Continent, being a guide to Holland, Belgium, Prussia, Northern Germany, and the Rhine from Holland to Switzerland”.  It is geared towards British travelers and was published by the firm of John Murray and Son, Albemarle Street, London, England, in 1871.  It is a latterday Baedecker or Michelin Guide to Europe and covers general topics of interest as well as specifics in each locale such as area history, churches, art and places to stay.  This is only one of several John Murray guidebooks which can be found on-line dating back to 1836.
What is so special about this book?  It is a marvelous resource as it covers a period of time when many of our ancestors were either leaving or getting ready to depart from their ancestral homes for places more conducive to religious freedom and economic prosperity.  Described in detail are numerous towns throughout Europe and methods of travel and costs of travel which will be of interest to those who want an enhanced detailed view of their ancestor’s lives.
To begin with, you can search within the book for whatever area or place you are interested in or whatever topic might strike your fancy.  For instance, if you look up the following terms you will find a number of curious references:
  • “Jew” – five references
  • “Jews” – thirty references
  • “Jewish” – three references
  • “Hebrew” - five references
  • “Hebrews” – two references
They show an acceptance and repetition of the commonly held local anti-Semitic views regarding Jews as well as those of the author.  As you can see, there are just a few specifically Jewish references, but they are worth checking out along with the general references. 
Here are a few examples:  
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands – There is a brief description of the Jewish community of Amsterdam and the four synagogues therein.  The writer describes the streets leading to the Muiderstraadt Portuguese Synagogue as follows:     “. . . the streets leading to it seem but a repetition of Monmouth, St. Giles – the same dirt and filthy smells, the same old clothes.” 
  • Tournay, France – Mentioned is Perkin Warbeck who was a pretender to the throne of Henry VII of England . . . “who gave himself out as one of the princes murdered in the Tower, was, by his own confession, the son of a Jew of Tournay.”
  • Brussels, Belgium – The Collegiate Church of Ste. Gudule’s Chapel of St. Sacrement des Miracles, offers the following snippet of anti-Semitic history:  “In the chapel . . . are deposited the Miraculous Wafers, said to have been stolen from the altar at the instigation of a sacrilegious Jew, and subjected to insults by himself and his brethren assembled in their synagogue.  To add to the sacrilege, the day chosen for this outrage was Good Friday.  When the scoffers proceeded so far as to stick their knives into the wafers, jets of blood burst forth from the wounds, and by a second miracle they were struck senseless.  They were then denounced by one of the pretended spectators, who had been converted to Christianity, and were seized and put to death by the most cruel torments, having their flesh torn off by hot irons before they were burnt at the stake.  This took place about the end of the 14th cent., and it proves that the Jews at Brussels must then have been so numerous and wealthy as to have been worth plundering.  The miracle is one of many similar tales invented by those who took advantage of the superstition of the age, and the general hatred of the race of Israel, to incite the populace to deeds of cruelty, which enabled them to enrich themselves with the confiscated goods of the unbelievers.  This triumph of the faith, as it is called, is celebrated once a year, on the Sunday following the 15th of July, in the enlightened city of Brussels, by a solemn procession of the clergy, and by the exhibition of the identical miraculous wafers.”
  • Oberwesel, Germany  – Describes that “in some period of the dark ages a boy named Werner is said to have been most impiously crucified and put to death by the Jews in this place.  A similar story is told in many other parts of the world; even in England, at Gloucester and Lincoln (vide Chaucer).  It is probable that the whole was a fabrication to serve as a pretext for persecuting the Jews and extorting money from them.  A little Chapel, erected to the memory of this Werner, stands upon the wall of the town, close to the Rhine.”
  • Worms, Germany – “The Synagogue near the Mainz Gate is a small 12th cent. building, a plain Roman vault, resting on 2 piers of single shafts with sculptured capitals, like those at Jerusalem.  A recess at the side is devoted to the women:  windows mostly round-headed.  The ark for holding the books of the Law is of poor Renaissance style (18th cent.).  The Jews have been established in this spot from a very early period, and enjoyed privileges denied them in most other parts of Germany.  They have a very ancient burial-ground like that at Prague.”
  • Berlin, Germany – “The Jews’ Synagogue, Oranienbergerstrasse (Note:  now the Neue Synagogue), is perhaps the most costly one in Europe; splendid within and without; enriched with gilding and painting; in fact no expense has been spared by the wealthy Hebrew community here.  It is lighted by gas from without, in a very skilful manner.  Friday evening at 6-1/2 is the time to see the service:  very fine vocal and instrumental music.”
  The partially restored post-War Neue Synagogue in Berlin, Germany
  • Rheinstein, Germany – “At the narrow pass below Rheinstein, which even now, after having been widened by French and Prussian engineers, leaves barely room for the road between the rock and the river, there existed till recent times a “Jew’s Toll”, where certain fixed dues were levied upon all the Hebrews who passed.  It is said that the contractors kept little dogs, who were trained to single out and seize the Jews from among the passing crowds!”
Many of the things mentioned in the book are no more, due to the depredations of time and war.  In this respect, these guidebooks give us an intimate view of a Europe that is all, but a memory.  It also provides clues to where things of interest might have been located such as sign posts, cultural institutions, some Jewish areas, and routes of travel our ancestors might have taken.  Many maps and other illustrations are to be found throughout the book that are quite helpful in determining where things are to be found in a specific area.  An example of this is the plan map of Coblenz, Germany.
Remember, use http://www.books.google.com to locate these guidebooks and other such resources which you may find of interest to expand your notion of the environment in which your ancestors spent their daily lives.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dov Levin: From Kovno to Jerusalem

'Who will release us from this pain in our hearts, from the lonesomeness and destruction that call out to us from every corner and every clod of earth?"
Such was the deep anguish of Dov Levin, expressed in his diary in July 1944 as the young man emerged from the Lithuanian forests where he had fought as a partisan. Finally, after the capital Vilna had been freed, the Jewish fighters and survivors could surface and identify themselves. (JPOST)

Click here to read the entire article.

Auschwitz survivor baffled by bottle message

A French Holocaust survivor whose name was found in a bottled message on the grounds of Auschwitz this week says the discovery is a "mystery" to him.

Museum officials said on Monday that workers demolishing a wall that was once part of the Nazi death camp in Poland had found a hand-written message apparently signed by seven prisoners, only two of whom survived.

"I am a little shaken up by this bottle business - it's a mystery," Albert Veissid, now a sprightly 84-year-old, said at his home in Allauch in south-eastern France.

"It's incredible. I remember everything from the camp, from A to Z. As I speak to you now, I can see the images before my eyes.

"But this bottle business is an enigma. The biggest surprise of my life," said the former fairground worker, who was arrested by collaborationist French authorities in 1943 and deported to Poland the following year.

Dated September 20, 1944, the message listed the names and camp ID numbers of seven Auschwitz prisoners aged 18 to 20, all Polish nationals except for Mr Veissid, who worked together on the construction of an air raid shelter.

Workers found it packed inside the mortar of a wall of a building in the southern Polish town of Oswiecim that served as a warehouse for the camp's Nazi guards during World War II, and is now part of a local high school.

Mr Veissid said he remembered meeting the six Poles in question while working as a builder at the camp.

"It's true I did them some favours. There was food supplied upstairs and they used to steal tubs of marmalade, which I would hide downstairs," he said.

"Maybe they wrote my name in the bottle as a way of thanking me."

Further details about the message are expected to be made public in the coming days, the Auschwitz museum said.

Mr Veissid said he had spoken little about his experiences at Auschwitz, declining to give speeches in schools on his time there.

"But since this story intrigues me, I decided to play the game for once. It's a revolution for me."

Born into a Jewish family in Istanbul - then known as Constantinople - in 1924, Mr Veissid arrived in the south-eastern French city of Lyon as a baby.

As a young man he worked as a musician and a sweet-store vendor, before being deported.

He survived until Auschwitz was evacuated in January 1945, when he walked across Germany to France, arriving in a state so emaciated that his family struggled to recognise him.

"I was a walking skeleton. One more week and I wouldn't have made it back," said Mr Veissid, who took up work as a musician then as a salesman after recovering his health.

More than 1 million people, most of them European Jews, were killed at the twin Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi camps during World War II. In total, 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Others who died at Auschwitz included tens of thousands of non-Jewish Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, Romas (gypsies) and anti-Nazi resistance fighters from across Europe. (Source: AFP)


Click here to read the entire article. Related post here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jewish Life in Morocco

Unique photographs of Jewish life in southern Morocco in the 1950s are on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam. Today, only dilapidated synagogues and empty cemeteries are the reminders of what was once a vibrant community. The photographer Elias Harrus (1919-2008) took pictures portraying Jewish life in southern Morocco in the 1950s, before most of the country's Jews migrated en masse to Israel. The Dutch photographer Pauline Prior travelled to the same locations last year to photograph what remains of this heritage. Her photos provide a dramatic contrast. 
"My grandmother told me that Jewish and Berber women used to work the land together," says the secretary of Amsterdam's district council of Zeeburg, Fatima Elatik, at the opening of the exhibition.
"They spoke the same language, had the same culture and sang the same songs. I always found it a very special story."
The Jews lived around 2,000 years in Morocco, usually in harmony with their Berber neighbours. Since the establishment of Israel in 1948 most of the 270,000 Moroccan Jews have emigrated to the Jewish state. Only a small community remains. Today most Jews live in the large cities in the north of the country. The first wave of migration was underway when Elias Harrus took his photographs.
Harrus worked for much of his life for schools founded by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, a Jewish educational organisation dedicated to the emancipation of Jews in Muslim countries by advocating a modern, secular education. As an insider his photographs document the daily life of the Jews of southern Morocco in intimate detail.
The organiser of the exhibition, Sulimat Cohen, says Eliat Harrus' photographs form a unique testimony.
"They recorded the life of a community just before it disappeared."
The photographs testify to the good relations between the Jews and the Berbers. They had daily contact and depended on one another financially. You see Jews working in the trades in which they specialised, such as tanning leather and jewellery making. They fashioned the famous silver ornaments which Berber women in southern Morocco would wear on their wedding day.
There are also portraits of Sunday markets where Jews and Muslims would work side by side. 
Sulimat Cohen: "The Jews often worked as merchants who would travel through the mountains from market to market.This would have been very dangerous for the Berbers, since the different clans were often at odds. However the Jews enjoyed protection from everyone due to their important economic function."

Cohen points to comments made by a Berber merchant in southern Morocco which were cited by English writer John Waterbury: "Before the arrival of the French we were always fighting one another. However there were two rules which everyone abided by. We did not tolerate prostitution among our women. And whatever we did to one another, we would never touch a hair on a Jew's head."
What is left of the Jewish presence in southern Morocco? In 2008 the Jewish Historical Museum sent the Dutch photographer Pauline Prior to the Atlas mountain range and the Sahara to look for traces. Her photographs are on display alongside those of Harrus. Harrus' portraits are full of people, while those of Prior are silent and empty. You see dilapidated synagogues, a desolate Jewish neighbourhood and an unused cemetery.
However the cemeteries - especially the graves of holy rabbis - are the most lively places photographed by Prior. Moroccan Jews revere holy men who worked wonders during their lives the same as Moroccan Muslims do. The graves of holy men are scattered across Moroccow, many of them Jewish. Moroccan Jews who live in Israel frequently visit some of them.

Amsterdam district council secretary Fatima Elatik says most young people of Moroccan origin in the Netherlands have little knowledge of the close contact which Jews and Muslims once had in Morocco. She hopes that many children of Moroccan origin will visit the exhibition.

Click here to read the entire article and here to visit the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Workmen in Poland find hidden Auschwitz letter

The note, written in pencil then rolled up and inserted in a bottle, contains the names of seven young people who probably thought they were doomed to die in the notorious Auschwitz death camp.

A construction crew renovating a cellar near the Auschwitz site discovered the bottle hidden in a concrete wall, officials said Monday.

Dated Sept. 9, 1944, the note bears the names, camp numbers and hometowns of the seven prisoners — six from Poland and one from France.

"All of them are between the ages of 18 and 20," the final sentence reads. "They were young people who were trying to leave some trace of their existence behind them," said Auschwitz museum spokesman Jaroslaw Mensfelt. He said two of the prisoners survived the camp but he did not have further details.

Workmen were tearing out a wall in the basement of a college building in the town of Oswiecim — which was called Auschwitz by the Nazis during World War II — on April 20 when they discovered the bottle, college spokeswoman Monika Bartosz said.

She said the note appeared to have been written on a scrap from a cement bag.

The school's three buildings, which are a few hundred meters (yards) from the camp, were used as warehouses during the war by Hitler's SS troops. The prisoners were compelled to reinforce the cellar with concrete so it could serve as an air-raid shelter.

Museum experts have verified the authenticity of the note, which will be handed over to the museum in early May. The Nazis set up the Auschwitz camp in 1940 in occupied Poland. At least 1.1 million people, mostly Jews — but also non-Jewish Poles, Gypsies and others — died in Auschwitz-Birkenau's gas chambers, or from starvation, disease and forced labor, before Soviet troops liberated the camp on Jan. 27, 1945. (AP)

Click here to read the entire article.

JGS Palm Beach County - MAY MEMBERSHIP MEETING


Posted by: Jacqueline Fineblit


PRESS RELEASE:  April 13, 2009
FROM: Jacqueline Fineblit
Publicity and e-mail coordinator
Jewish Genealogical Society Palm Beach County Inc.

SUBJECT: MAY MEMBERSHIP MEETING
DATE:  Wednesday May 13, 2009
TIME:  
  • 11:30 am-12:30 pm: Special Interest Groups Galicia, Rm 1; Belarus, Rm 2
  • 12:30 pm-12:55 pm: Brick Wall Session
  • 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm:    Brief business meeting followed by program
PLACE: South County Civic Center, 16700 Jog Road, Delray Beach, FL.


PROGRAM: Share Our Successes

Five JSPBCI members will share their successful research stories and explain the methods used to trace their families at the final membership meeting of the season of the Jewish Genealogical Society Palm Beach County Inc. The program takes place at the South County Civic Center in Delray Beach, and begins at 11.30 AM with the Galicia and Belarus Special Interest group in classrooms 1 and 2, followed by the Brick Wall Question and Answer Session and a brief business meeting.
Included on the speaker's panel are Mark Jacobson, Breaking Down a Brick Wall; Alan Lewis, Family History on a DVD; Marilyn Newman, Genealogical Research Before the Computer Age; Mitch Strauss, Cemeteries A Wonderful Resource; Ron Friedman, Traditional Attempts Leads to Exciting Discovery.
This program, held annually as the final meeting of the season, provides a wealth of genealogical research information. It is always one of the most successful and best attended each year. A question and answer period follows the lectures, and members are invited to briefly discuss their own success stories.

Guests are welcome.
The $5 guest fee may be applied toward membership dues
 
For further information about the Brick Wall program, or to submit questions in advance, e-mail Program Chairperson Sandra Zahn-Oreck . For special Interest Groups, contact Marvin Lopatin
For program information contact:
Sylvia Nusinov: 561 483-1060
Marilyn Newman: 561 775-4920

Friday, April 24, 2009

IAJGS Summer Conference Update

Posted By: Anne Feder Lee
We are very pleased to let you know that you can now purchase tickets for all conference sponsored meals and the Computer Workshops at the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Philadelphia, August 2 - 7, 2009.
If you have already registered, go to www.Philly2009.org, click on Registration Update. You will need the Login and Password information you received with your registration confirmation e-mail. Then add the meals and/or computer workshops you want to attend.
If you have not yet registered, please do so now. Remember, earlybird registration ends April 30.
There will be the following conference sponsored meals:
  • Welcome Dinner and Get-Together on Saturday, Aug 1. 
  • 9 Breakfasts with the Experts from Monday through Thursday.
  • 10 SIG Luncheons from Sunday through Thursday.
  • Banquet on Thursday, August 6.
There are 16 computer workshops running from Sunday thru Thursday. The computer workshops are limited to 25 per class. So signup early to make sure you have a place.
More fee-based items will be added as soon as possible.

See you there,

Anne Feder Lee

Thursday, April 23, 2009

GENKVETCH

Posted by: By Ann Rabinowitz 

Many people feel out of place or uncomfortable utilizing the latest Internet communication tools such as Facebook and others.  Now, there is a new and exciting tool, GenKvetch, which focuses on the baby boomer generation and beyond.  Just starting out, this South Florida phenomenon appears to be a social networking tool as the others are, but one that caters to the likes, the dislikes and the funny bone of the world’s retirement age generation often called the silver surfers.

The headline banner on the front page of its site (www.genkvetch.com) states “Out of place at Facebook, MySpace, and Friendster?  Then this is your space!”

The creators are three senior Floridians – all over 60 - husband and wife Mel and Marilyn Carroll and Steve Greenbaum, all formerly from New York and now all living in Surfside, Florida, in Dade County.  As to their backgrounds, Mel Carroll is a Litvak whose father, Louis emigrated to Dublin where he gave his name an Irish twist.  He stayed with his brother Henry and thence, sometime later, he went onto America in 1914 or so where he met up with another brother, Abraham Carroll, who lived in the Bronx.  Mel has been looking for his Uncle Abraham’s son and daughter Paul and Molly Carroll whom he has not seen since he was eight years old.

Marilyn Carroll, Mel’s wife, is descended from grandparents Sigmund Holzmann and his wife Matilde Engel Holzmann, both originally from Bratislava and Prague, Czechoslovakia, respectively.  Later, this couple was resident in Vienna, Austria.  It was from there, in 1941, that they were taken by the Nazis and killed during the Holocaust whilst in transit to Kaunas, Lithuania.

The third member of the team, Steve Greenbaum, is descended from several generations born in America and he knows little of his origins apart from that.  He is like many who find themselves with no clues as to their heritage.

So it is that they all very ably represent three varied and different strands of American Jewry.

This creative team, two of whom are engineers, gave birth to their site in November, 2008.  Whilst it has a Yiddish name, the GenKvetch site is like Facebook and is non-denominational.  It attracts all segments of the retirement community worldwide.  It has now expanded to over 5,000 members and is still growing exponentially.  They utilize simplicity, humor, and a variety of links to focus on generation-geared content.  This helps to attract many members who are not highly technical nor computer savvy.

As people hear about the site, it is expected that it will greatly expand the potential for communicating with others in the kvetch generation.  Once it has hit its stride and expanded it geographical horizons, this will mean that there will be more opportunities for genealogical networking as there are on other such social networking sites.

The site has a Community section which then can be broken out into Groups and you can create a new group or forum which can involve your favorite activities or genealogical-related fare.  It is at the very beginning of its development, so GenKvetch is open to all possibilities.

So, stayed tuned and perhaps even participate in GenKvetch if you are 50 or older.  Take advantage of its potential and also add your little bit of genealogical savoir faire and senior experience to its content.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yad Vashem urges public to help identify children that appear in the 25,000 photos gathered by the Holocaust museum

They were found in family albums, unknown archives and even in the Nazis' photo database. Yellowing pictures, some almost completely faded. The faces that look out of then are pure. The faces of innocent children caught in the midst of hell on earth.

Despite numerous efforts, no one knows who they are and whether they managed to survive the horror.


Some 25,000 photographs of children that were taken during the Holocaust are stored in the archives of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum. They make up only about 10% of the overall number of photos kept there.

"The visual testimony is very important to us," explained Dr. Haim Gertner, Director of the Yad Vashem Archives. "We record the lives of Jews starting with the period before the Holocaust, through their lives at the ghettos and camps, to the lives of the survivors at the camps built for the displaced.

"We document the victims and the survivors, the saviors, the murderers and the actual acts of killing," he said. "The photos of the children, some of whom may still be alive today, have a special significance."
Exactly one year ago, some 130,000 photos have been uploaded to the Yad Vashem website, and since then the flow of photographs sent to the museum has only increased. "In the last year alone we received 12,000 new photos for our archive," said Gertner, "most of which, about 11,000, from a photo collection of Czechoslovakia's Jews."
Only a few of the photos' donors or of surfers to the website recognize the people in the pictures, and Yad Vashem is investing great efforts in identifying them.
Gertner said that in some cases the museum itself initiates efforts to identify those photographed. "For instance, we received a large photo collection from the Terezin concentration camp. We organized a conference with the camp's survivors and showed them the photographed. They identified many of the people in them."
Yad Vashem also employs a small team of researchers on the project, "but one of our best partners is undoubtedly the public, both in Israel and abroad," Gertner concluded. (YNET)
Click here to read the entire article.

Death camp guard escaped by faking Nazi victim status

A former death camp guard wanted by Germany for abetting the killing of 29,000 Jews presented himself as a Nazi victim to refugee aid workers at the end of the war, documents indicated Tuesday.

John Demjanjuk, then known as Ivan, had himself registered in March 1948 as a displaced person - a category reserved mainly for former concentration camp prisoners and forced labourers, according to copies of records provided by the International Tracing Service (ITS) to AFP.

The ITS in the western German town of Bad Arolsen manages a vast archive documenting the fate of Nazi victims.

The agency on Tuesday provided a copy of what it said was Demjanjuk's application dated March 3, 1948 in which he sought assistance as a refugee and asked for transfer to Argentina.

The file includes registration cards from 10 different refugee camps and medical records.

In a section in which he was asked to provide biographical information, he said he worked as a driver at the Sobibor concentration camp in today's Poland but made no mention of his work as a guard.

German daily Bild, which first reported on the file Tuesday, quoted historian Hans-Juergen Boemelburg at the University of Giessen as saying that many war crimes suspects had attempted to escape justice after 1945 by presenting themselves as Nazi victims.

"There were about six million DPs (displaced persons). Among them were likely tens of thousands of collaborators who presented themselves as victims of deportation and were thus able to go underground," he said.

Born in Ukraine in 1920, Demjanjuk was a soldier in the Red Army who was captured by the Nazis in the spring of 1942.

He trained at the Treblinka death camp in occupied Poland and served two years in the camps of Sobibor and Majdanek in occupied Poland and Flossenburg in Bavaria.

Demjanjuk has always insisted he was forced to work for the Nazis and had been mistaken by survivors for other cruel guards.

He immigrated to the United States in 1952 with his family, settling in Ohio where he found work in the auto industry.

Demjanjuk is wanted in Germany on charges of aiding the deaths of at least 29,000 Jews in concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Poland.

He has been fighting deportation to Germany, which issued a warrant for his arrest in March. The US government stripped him of his citizenship in 2002 after fresh evidence against him surfaced following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Yom HaShoah: Israel mourns the 6 million murdered


  Moment of Silence and Reflection
Israel came to a standstill for two mournful minutes on Tuesday as air-raid sirens pierced the air in memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Cars came to a halt and people froze in their tracks, many with heads bowed, in memory of the victims.

The siren was followed by an official wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem as well as a Knesset ceremony during which lawmakers read out the names of family members who perished in the Holocaust.

In deference to the solemnity of the day, restaurants, bars and places of entertainment remained closed across the country.

At 5.30 p.m., a youth movement memorial ceremony, attended by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, will be held at Yad Vashem.

At the opening Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem on Monday night, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vowed that there would not be a second Holocaust, their pledges ringing in the shadow of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vicious anti-Israel speech at the UN conference against racism in Geneva.

In his speech, Peres said that the appearance at the conference of Ahmadinejad, who has denied the Holocaust and has repeatedly called for Israel's annihilation, was "a deplorable disgrace," and that Israel was the one state that would prevent another Holocaust.

Netanyahu also mentioned the Geneva conference and criticized Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who met with Ahmadinejad on Sunday.

"We will not let the Holocaust deniers perpetrate another holocaust on the Jewish people," he added. "This is the highest responsibility of the State of Israel and of myself as prime minister." (JPOST)
Click here to read the entire article

Monday, April 20, 2009

JGS of Long Island - Yearbook Project

Posted By: Nolan Altman

What picture comes to mind when you think about your grandparents?  Your parents?  For your entire life, you’ve known them as adults, doing adult things.  But we forget that they were and teens and young adults too!  Finding a picture and / or information about your grandparents or parents from their formative years can be a very rewarding addition to anyone’s family history research. 

High school, college and other miscellaneous school yearbooks or class lists can be an interesting source of genealogical information and photographs.  You might find out that your relative participated in sports, scholastic teams, won academic awards, was a class officer, etc.  Maybe your relative’s subsequent vocation or avocation goes back to when they were a member of the Biology Club, Drama Club, or school orchestra?  Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to add a picture of Grandma Ruth when she was a member of her school chorus?

The JGSLI Board decided that it would be a valuable service to its members if we could inventory yearbooks in our members’ personal libraries and make that information available for genealogical look-ups.  JGSLI commenced its Yearbook Project in June of 2006 with the goal of acting as an intermediary to match researchers with yearbook owners. 

    During the last year, we have been able to match up dozens of researchers with yearbook owners.  Since our list of yearbooks is made public on our website (http://www.jgsli.org/yearbook_project.htm), we have received inquiries from not only our members, but non-members as well.  We realize that since our membership’s yearbooks are from the New York City / Long Island area, the information in those books could be of interest to researchers from around the country.

    The interest from non-members outside of the NYC / LI area gave us the idea of expanding our project to inventory yearbooks from other local JGSs, other genealogical groups and other interested individuals.  A number of non-member researchers have inquired if they could list their books on our site as well. 

JGSLI’s Role
   
    JGSLI does not own, nor do we physically custody the yearbooks listed on our site.  The books are in the personal libraries of those that are making them available for genealogical look-ups.  JGSLI will act as the “matchmaker” between the owner of the information and the researcher.  When a request comes to us, using the email address on our site (yearbook_project@jgsli.org), we will reply to the researcher and forward the request to the owner of the book by using a blind cc.  It is up to the owner of the material to comply with the request.  (People signing up for the program do so with the understanding that there will be requests.  See Owner’s Role below.)

Owner’s Role

    The owner of the material submits a signed JGSLI Yearbook Project Form which they can download from our site at http://www.jgsli.org/Yearbook_Form.pdf The agreement states in part, “Submitting a listing means that you have volunteered to be contacted by email and are willing to provide information, a photocopy, or scan for the researcher.  JGSLI is only making the information available to researchers.  Owners of the books are responsible for following up with the request.”

Researcher’s Role

    Researchers can contact us through the email address listed on our site (yearbook_project@jgsli.org).  We would appreciate if requesters of information also become providers of information to help fellow researchers. 

How You Can Help

    We know that genealogists who are familiar with JewishGen or those that are members of other IAJGS member societies and their families and friends can be an important source of yearbooks and we would be very grateful for your help to grow our database.  Due to the success and smooth operation of the project as it currently exists, and since we have been receiving requests from non-members for information as well as interest on how to list their own yearbooks on our site, the JGSLI Board has decided to reach out to other sources.  Our longer term goal is to approach other genealogical societies and interested individuals in an effort to expand the inventory of yearbooks available and to facilitate matches to researchers and family members. 

    We would appreciate if you would consider helping us by allowing us to include your yearbooks in our listing so our database will be more valuable to researchers.  For any additional information, please contact me at: (yearbook_project@jgsli.org).

Tattoos from Auschwitz horror reunite lost inmates

As terrified teenagers 65 years ago, Menachem Sholowicz and Anshel Sieradzki stood in line together in Auschwitz, having serial numbers tattooed on their arms. Sholowicz was B-14594; Sieradzki was B-14595.
The two Polish Jews had never met, they never spoke and they were quickly separated. Each survived the Nazi death camp, moved to Israel, married, and became grandfathers. They didn't meet again until a few weeks ago, having stumbled upon each other through the Internet. Late in life, the two men speak daily, suddenly partners who share their darkest traumas.
"We are blood brothers," said Sieradzki, 81. "The moment I meet someone who was there with me, who went through what I went though, who saw what I saw, who felt what I felt _ at that moment we are brothers."
The twist of fate doesn't end there. Two brothers who were with them in the tattooist's line have made contact since hearing of their story.
One of the brothers joined them for a reunion on Sunday at Israel's Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem. With tears in their eyes, the three embraced warmly and caught up on painful memories in Hebrew and in Yiddish.
"This is my victory," Sieradzki said.
The meeting came a day before Israel marks its annual Holocaust remembrance day beginning Monday night, commemorating the 6 million Jews murdered in World War II.
The four survivors, with the consecutive serial numbers, are among hundreds of thousands of survivors who poured into Israel at the birth of the Jewish state. An estimated 250,000 are still alive in Israel, carrying the physical and emotional scars of that era.
"It is never forgotten, not for a moment," Sieradzki said. "It's like an infected sore deep inside that hurts every time it is exposed."
The unlikely reconnection began when Sholowicz's daughter found a Web site that detailed Sieradzki's odyssey from Auschwitz to Israel. It struck her as eerily similar to her father's.
All the same elements were there _ being separated from parents and siblings and never seeing them again, searching for scraps of bread to eat in the Polish ghettos, surviving the selection process of Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Auschwitz camp doctor who decided who would live and who would die. They endured Nazi death marches to two other camps in which any emaciated prisoner who fell behind was shot in the head.
Later, both moved to Israel, fought in its 1948 war of independence, and made careers in its military industry.
Still, the two men never met and the name Sieradzki on the Web site didn't ring a bell. Then Sholowicz, 80, saw the man's number and he froze.
"I rolled up my sleeve and sure enough _ I stood exactly ahead of him in line at Auschwitz," he said. The discovery "was a moment of great emotion, great excitement. We went through it all together. We are like two parallel lines that never met."
He called Sieradzki the next day. They recently met halfway between their homes in Haifa and Jerusalem, and a photo of them and their tattoos appeared in an Israeli newspaper. Sieradzki says it is astounding that both survived the Holocaust and lived this long.
In Auschwitz, "I used to think about getting through the moment, the hour, at most the day," he said. "I didn't think about the next day, because I didn't think I was going to live to see the next day."
He can never forget arriving at Auschwitz and seeing Mengele, who with a flick of a thumb decided fates. Those too old, too young, or too ill were sent to the gas chambers and the crematoria. Those fit enough to work were stripped, shaved and tattooed and then forced into labor.
He never noticed the others in line with him. "At that moment, everyone was busy with their own thoughts," he said. "I don't remember who was in front of me and who was behind me."
In an even more unlikely development, Sieradzki recently discovered who stood behind him in line for tattoos _ Shaul Zawadzki and his older brother Yaakov, serial numbers B-14596 and B-14597. They too survived Auschwitz and made it to Israel.
"It's unfathomable that something like this could happen. I'm still in shock," a shaking Yaakov Zawadzki, 82, said at Sunday's reunion.
He said his brother could not make the meeting both because he had to care for his ailing wife and because he could not bear the emotional burden of bringing up the old memories.
Like many survivors, Sieradzki, who in Israel took on the Hebrew name Asher Aud, also kept silent for more than half a century. Only when he returned to Poland in the early 1990s did he open up. He founded an organization of the former residents of his hometown of Zdunska Wola and resurrected the Jewish cemetery there. The organization's Web site is what first drew the attention of Sholowicz's daughter.
"I felt like I was closing a circle," Sieradzki said of visiting Poland. "If God kept me alive to tell of what happened, then it was worth staying alive." Now that story includes a new chapter he shares with three others, bound together forever by the numbers inked deep into their arms. "Our fate was to be together either in life or in death," Sholowicz said. "Now we have life." (Washington Post)

Click here to read the entire article.

Hat Tip: Karen Franklin

Friday, April 17, 2009

IAJGS Summer Conference Update

Posted By: Anne Feder Lee
Time is going by quickly and the end of Early Bird registration for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Philadelphia (August 2-7, 2009) is fast approaching: Early Bird Registration ends on April 30, 2009.
The Early Bird registration is $250 ( with $150 for Companion).  On May 1, 2009 (through July 24, 2009,) Regular registration will be in effect: $295 (with $195 for Companion). On-Site Registration takes effect After July 25, 2009: $325 (with $225 for Companion). 
To be eligible for the Companion Registration Fee, a companion must reside in the same household as the principal registrant.  Daily registration is also possible.
Now is the time for you to register if you want to save money!  The exiciting program can be found at the website, click here to check it out. You will find an exciting array of speakers and topics. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced family researcher, there will be plenty to keep you very busy. To register go to www.Philly2009.org and click on the Registration button at the left.  It is extremely simple to do.
We are also very pleased to bring to your attention a fantastic resource called Philadelphia's Jewish Resource Guide. This is an extensive guide to the Philadelphia area's Jewish and genealogical resources. Review it at http://www.philly2009.org.  With a comprehensive listing of research sites and places of Jewish History in southeastern PA, Southern NJ and Del, this is a single source of helpful information.  Each entry includes name, address, phone number, key staff, website, email, hours, fees, accessibility, public transportation, driving directions, Jewish interest holdings and research advice.
Helpful for researchers around the world, this will be especially useful for attendees of this summer's conference. This Guide is an evolving document that will be periodically updated -- so you will want to check it more than once before the conference.  This Guide is a must-read to prepare for doing research while in Philadelphia.
So don't forget that the Early Bird Registration is soon ending. And don't forget to check out Philadelphia's Jewish Resource Guide.
We look forward to seeing you at what will be a wonderful conference co-hosted by the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia (JGSGP).
Anne Feder Lee
David Mink
Conference Co-Chairs

New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Restricts Access to Indices

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has restricted access to the indices for vital records (birth, death) effective April 8, 2009. Only authorized personnel are now permitted to research the indices. In speaking with the Commissioner's office, I was advised that anyone may pay $15 to have the staff research a specific name for three years. More years requires additional payment. As genealogists, we would like to retain the opportunity to review the indices ourselves. There is nothing as of this posting reflecting the change postedon the DOHMH website. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/home/home.shtml)

TheDOHMH has birth indices/records after 1909 and death indices/records after 1948. (TheNew York City Municipal Archives has birth indexes prior to 1910 and death indexes prior to 1949 http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/html/vitalrecords/home.shtml.)

In 2008 the DOHMH adopted a resolution to repeal and reenact Article 3 of the NewYork City Health Code: see:http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/notice/article-3-adoption-June-2008.pdf Section §3.25. (page 4) states the amendment is for the protection of the privacy of persons who are subjects of the information while providing for the conditions underwhich information may be disclosed. Also §3.27 which permitted access to the printed indices of vital statistics records has been repealed in its entirety. This was the section that permitted anyone to review the indices available at the DOHMH. The stated rationale for repeal is due to concerns over abuse in access which can lead to identity theft and security risks. The resolution states while this is a Department determination, they are taking into consideration the federal regulations for the Health Insurance Portability andAccountability Act (HIPPA). This is not the usual interpretation of HIPPA which is the standard for protecting the privacy of patient medical records and other health information provided to health care providers.

As we learn more about this new restriction and attempts to change the resolution it will be reported on this forum.

Thank you to Joy Rich, editor of Dorot, JGS, Inc, and Chapter Representative, NewYork Metro Chapter Association of Professional Genealogists for bringing this to my attention.

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

The World Was Ours: The Jewish Legacy of Vilna" JGSCV May 3 Program

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County ( JGSCV ) will hold a general meeting, co–sponsored with Temple Adat Elohim, on Sunday, May 3, 2009 at Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, 1:30-3:30 p.m. to commemorate Yom Hashoah Day (Holocaust Remembrance Day)

Program: "The World Was Ours: The Jewish Legacy of Vilna"
"The World Was Ours" is a documentary film dedicated to the memory of Jewish Vilna. Vilna, often referred to as "the Jerusalem of Lithuania" was one of the great cultural centers of Eastern European Jewry. It wasn't the largest Jewish community, nor the most affluent; but the culture of Vilna's Jews, their pride, scholarship, and determination made Vilna unique. It was a community with a deep religious heritage and a highly developed sense of social responsibility.

The film focuses on the pre-war life of this vibrant culture depicting its hopes, dreams and remarkable achievements, a cultural atmosphere producing many illustrious figures. Award-winning actor Mandy Patinkin does the voice-over narrations weaving together interviews, diaries, letters, poems, archival photographs and footage. Vilna was destroyed in the holocaust.

Following the documentary, Esther Meisler, a former resident of Vilna will talk about her life in Vilna and how she survived the Holocaust.

Even though Yom Hashoah Day is remembered on April 21st, come join us for this moving memorial to the holocaust on May 3rd.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County is dedicated to sharing genealogical information, techniques and research tools with anyone interested in Jewish genealogy and family history.

There is no charge to attend the meeting. Anyone may join JGSCV. Annual dues are $25 for an individual and $30 for a family.

For more information contact: president@jgscv.org
Jan Meisels Allen

Pennsylvania Open Records Czar Rebuffed

An article published on April 11, 2009 in the Philadlephia Inquirer indicates the problems in Pennsylvania with the new open records law (SB 1 Act # 3 of the Laws of PA 2008 ) which I reported on to this forum on late in 2008 .

The article states, a Governor Rendell appointee says state agencies are on notice to ignore calls by open records czar Terry Mutchler. The new open records law which became effective in 2009 would cover marriage, divorce and death records. There are statutes protecting adoption records and birth records from disclosure and the new law does not supersede the existing statutes for these types of records.

I tried to post the url for the Philadelphia Inquirer article but the url was session specific. If you want to read the full article going to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to view it at: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/09101/962196-454.stm

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

JOWBR Update: April 2009

Posted by Nolan Altman

JewishGen is pleased to announce the first 2009 update to the JOWBR database.  This update includes over 55,000 new records and close to 25,000 new photos from 17 countries.  This brings JOWBR’s holdings to over 1.125 million records from over 2,100 cemeteries / cemetery section from 45 countries!

Although the burial records are now “live” additional description files, maps and overview photos for these new cemeteries will be made available shortly. 

Of particular note in this update is the following:
  • Maryland records.  We are very proud to include over 31,000 records from cemeteries in the Baltimore area courtesy of the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
  • Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska records and photos.  Thanks to Terry Lasky who has submitted records and photographs that he has personally created or coordinated with other volunteers in these states. This update includes approximately 2,800 new records and over 15,000 photographs.
  • Indiana records and photos.  Thanks to Gloria Green and her team for the penultimate installment of approximately 2,700 records and 2,700 photos for the Kelly Street cemetery complex in Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • Bayside, NY records. Thanks to Maurice Kessler and his team for an additional 1,400 records from the Bayside / Ozone Queens cemetery complex whose original records were documented by Florence Marmor and David Gevertzman.
  • Pennsylvania records.  Thanks to continuing submissions of various Pennsylvania cemeteries by Susan Melnick on behalf of the Rauh Jewish Archives at the John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center.
  • Chernivtsi, Ukraine.  Thanks to the JGS of Ottawa, Canada’s Hymie Reichstein and Bruce Reisch for the second installment  of approximately 3,800 records and photos for this cemetery.
  • Vilnius, Lithuania.   Thanks to Howard Margol for his submission of approximately 6,300 post World War II period burials in the Saltonishkiu Cemetery in Vilnius, Lithuania.
  • Iasi, Romania.  Thanks to Reuven Singer and his team for an additional 1,000 burial records translated from the 1887 Hebrew burial registers.
We anticipate that the next update will be prior to the summer conference.

We appreciate all the work our donors have done and encourage you to make additional submissions.  Whether you work on a cemetery / cemetery section individually or consider it a group project for your local Society, temple or other group, it’s your submissions that help grow the JOWBR database and make it possible for researchers and family members to find answers they otherwise might not.  Please also consider other organizations you may be affiliated with that may already have done cemetery indexing that would consider having their records include in the JOWBR database.

Nolan Altman
JOWBR - Coordinator

Holocaust survivor, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel warns against drugs that erase memory

So scientists have just made a new discovery: there is a way to erase memory. This is according to reports that neuroscientists at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn have found that a single dose of an experimental drug can, in laboratory animals, block the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of what it has learned.

The concept seems interesting since this procedure, taken to the extreme, would aim at changing the lives of many people. It promises to resolve our problems, relieve our pains and clear away our anxiety. How? Quite simply by removing from our consciousness what disturbs us, overwhelms us, hurts us.

At first glance, these researchers should be congratulated. After all, they are working for the good of others. If these others - be they rich or poor, educated or ignorant, young or old - have suffered, and if the memory of this suffering upsets them and harms their physical or mental well-being, all they may need to do now is expunge it from their mind.

Yet the concept of forgetting - not as an illness, but as a remedy - is in fact not all that new. Ancient civilizations had already thought of it. There are tales about a river (the Lena), remarkable for the powers of its waters to help people to forget.

Though people remain attached to their memories, sometimes they want to dispose of them. Rather ordinary examples prove the point. A trip to the dentist, for example, can make a patient abruptly forget that his teeth were aching. Or the passenger at sea who suffers from pangs of seasickness and swears that he will never board a boat again, only to forget as soon as the waves subside. Likewise a woman forgets the painful hours of her last delivery so as to once again be able to make love.

Is it to respond to this restorative need to forget what bothers, irritates and wounds us that scientists offer this soothing discovery?

With all due respect for their good intentions, I admit that the Jew in me has doubts about the repercussions, as well as the effectiveness of this remedy. I would even say that it is precisely its potential effectiveness that disturbs me most.

I belong to a tradition that orders me to remember the history of my people since its origins and throughout upheavals both joyous and miserable. On the evening of Passover I say, "We all were the Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt." On the ninth day of the Hebrew month Av commemorating the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, I am supposed to be in mourning, as if it had just happened yesterday. "Remember" and "do not forget" are biblical commandments that transcend the ages. And even more so for ours, for understandable reasons both historic and moral in nature.

The authors and followers of the heinous "Final Solution" were guilty not only of their unutterable crimes, but also of the will to erase their traces from the memory of others. Indeed they killed their victims two times: first with guns or in the gas chambers, and then by obliterating their memory. Thus the desire of survivors and those who bear witness for them to deprive the enemy of that second victory. If the civilized world allowed the crimes in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur to happen, it is because the lessons of Auschwitz and Treblinka have not been learned. And these lessons have not been learned quite simply because, for many reasons, the civilized world would rather not know.

This is why I am somewhat hesitant to trust the proposed therapeutic means to use forgetting as a tool for healing. Once forgetting has begun, where and when should it stop? Once we risk conducting such procedures in the medical field, they may well show up in the economic, social and political realm as well. The chance of honorable intentions being abused unfortunately remains, always and everywhere.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but I cannot help it. I am incapable of forgetting that I belong to a singularly traumatized generation. (NYDailyNews)

Click here to read the entire article at the NY Daily News.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Winner of Free Hotel Room at the 2009 IAJGS Conference

Congratulations to Allen Halberstadt of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada. Allen won the drawing for a free hotel room at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel. This is Allen's first IAJGS Conference.

Please note: Early Registration continues until April 30. Click here to register today.

Old Jewish tombstones unearthed in central Brest

Old Jewish tombstones were unearthed during excavations near an outpatient clinic in central Brest earlier this month.

The first tombstone was discovered as soon as workers removed the asphalt layer on April 8 and a total of 12 tombstones were found as of Friday.

The tombstones, which are some 50 centimeters wide and about 150 centimeters tall, appear to have been removed from the graves of rabbis by Nazi troops.

“The tombstones lie one beside another. There was a Gestapo building during the Great Patriotic War here. Nazi troops made a parade ground of them,” Mr. Bruk said.

All tombstones are to be taken to the Brest Fortress war memorial, where some 2,000 such pieces are already kept. They are expected to be used in the creation of a memorial at the site where a Jewish cemetery once was and where the Lakamatyw stadium was built later.

“People call and tell me about such finds or simply bring them to the former cemetery site. Residents of the city understand that this is not only a historical value but also the memory of ancestors that must be preserved,” Mr. Bruk said. (NaviNY)
Click here for the full article and here to visit the JewishGen Belarus SIG.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

New Book - Road to Victory: Jewish Soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division

Posted by Gary Mokotoff 


Avotaynu has just published a new book: "Road to Victory: Jewish Soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division."

One aspect of the Holocaust about which there are too few books written is the participation of Jews in Eastern Europe as partisans or members of regular armies that fought the Germans. Such a book is "Road to Victory: Jewish Soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division." 
The book contains first-person accounts of the participation of Lithuanian Jews who fought in the 16th Lithuanian Division of the Red Army. Through their accounts they represent the large corps of 4,500 Jewish fighters-men and women alike-who took arms in the battlefields of World War II in order to destroy the enemy as well as to liberate the remnants of Lithuanian Jewry-the survivors of the Shoah.

A good number of stories are written by or about women who fought in the war. Professor Dov Levin, who was a partisan and is possibly the world authority on the history of the Jews of Lithuania, wrote the first article in the book.

In addition to the personal accounts, there is a yizkor (memorial) section listing 1,215 soldiers who died, giving name, father's given name, year of birth, rank, date and place of death. There is an index of persons mentioned in the other sections of the book. All told some 2,500 people are identified.

The book was originally compiled in Yiddish and then translated into Hebrew. Dorothy Leivers, author of The Jews of Kopcheve (Lithuania), which is also published by Avotaynu, has organized and edited this English language translation. The cover is a replica of the Hebrew version of the book with text adapted in English. The quality of the illustrations is not the best.

The original photographs and artwork were destroyed in a fire after publication of the Hebrew edition. Consequently, the only way to include the illustrations was to scan the Hebrew edition. This is a readable history, rich in details both for historians and genealogists.

Additional information is available by clicking here. At that site are two sample articles from the book.

Gary Mokotoff

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Live in New York, New Jersey or Connecticut? An Great Opportunity


Dear Friend,

For a limited time, JewishGen and the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust are offering a special joint membership offer.Gifts of $136 or more will grant you access to JewishGen's Value Added Services and membership to the Museum for one year.
JewishGen became an affiliate of the Museum in 2003. Since that time, JewishGen and the Museum have worked together to educate and inspire family researchers seeking to reconnect with their relatives and Jewish heritage. Now more than ever, we need your help and support to continue offering the essential services provided by JewishGen and the Museum.
JewishGen's Value Added Services offer you access to enhanced database search capabilities, enrollment in our online genealogy course and other extra features.
As a Museum Member you receive exclusive access to special events and Members-only tours, a 15% discount at the Pickman Museum Shop, free admission to the Museum, guest passes for friends and family, a 10% discount at The Heritage Café, subscriptions to the newsletter and events calendar, and a Member discount on tickets to public programs.
Right now, you can help us provide and expand the wide array of services we offer to you and family researchers throughout the world who so desperately wish to connect with their past and present family heritage.
Credit Card contributions can be made on our secure website by clicking here. If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to JewishGen and send it to:
JewishGen: Joint Membership
36 Battery Place
New York, NY 10280
With grateful appreciation and warm wishes for a happy and healthy Passover,

Warren Blatt
Managing Director, JewishGen

Monument to 124 Jews buried in mass graves in Hungary to be unveiled on Holocaust Day

Holocaust survivor Shraga Shemer will travel to a Hungarian town on Holocaust Remembrance Day, (Yom HaShoah) April 21, to lead a ceremony and unveil a monument for 124 Jews, including his father, recently discovered to have been been buried there.
In the town of Hegyeshalom, archives have been discovered documenting 124 Jewish Holocaust victims who died between November 1944 and March 1945 and were buried in mass graves in the town's Christian cemetery. Names and descriptions of 84 of the victims have been found in the town's archives, in addition to detailed descriptions of the 40 bodies without names, according to Matan Barzilay, director of the archive at the Testimony House of Religious Zionism and the Holocaust in Moshav Nir Galim, near Ashdod.

Shemer has been traveling to Hegyeshalom for the past few years to research his own history there. In 1944, when he was 16, Shemer and his father were part of a forced labor platoon in the Hungarian army there. He said both he and his father, along with many other forced laborers, had fallen into typhus-induced comas, of which Shemer's father died.

Many of those buried in the mass graves also died in that typhus outbreak.

Hegyeshalom was situated along the Nazi death march route from Budapest to Vienna, according to Shemer.

"Many, many Jews died there during the death marches, from weakness and from Nazi murder, and many of those were buried in the mass graves," Barzilay said Thursday.

In his research, Shemer became friendly with Hegyeshalom Mayor Szoke Laszlo, who brought the archived information to his attention. The town's council had collected the information at the time for official record, Shemer said.

He will soon travel again to Hegyeshalom, to supervise the construction of the black stone monument that will be unveiled at the ceremony later this month. It will be placed at the gate of the cemetery "so that everyone who enters will know the history of what is there," he said.

"I knew my father was buried in the cemetery somewhere, but now I know with comfort where exactly he rests," Shemer said, adding that through his journey, "I am finally now closing the circle. I feel I have fulfilled my obligation to my father, and I can finally put my past to rest. I am now more at peace, a weight lifted from my soul." (JPOST)

Click here to read the entire article.

City of Vienna gives up art expropriated in Nazi Germany

The city of Vienna has set a precedent for the restitution of artworks expropriated under the Nazi regime by this week giving up a piece that a German Jewish banker was forced to auction in 1934.

The city council chose to return the artwork to the heirs of Herbert Gutmann even though the Austrian law for art restitution only covers the period between 1938, when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany, and 1945, when the Third Reich was defeated.

Herbert Gutmann was a wealthy Jewish banker, the son of a co-founder of Dresdner Bank, Eugen Gutmann.

Forced out of the banking world after the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he sold his art collection and other possessions and fled to Britain in 1936.

The Museum of Vienna acquired the painting "Pappenheim's Death", by Hans Makart, from a Danish art dealer in 1968, but this week handed it back to Gutmann's grandchildren.

Property belonging to Jews was confiscated as a matter of course during Nazi rule in Germany and neighbouring countries. (Haaretz)

Click here to read the entire article

Monday, April 6, 2009

First Lady Visits Remnants of Prague's Decimated Jewish Community

First lady Michelle Obama recently toured Jewish areas of the Czech Republic: the Pinkas Synagogue, the Old Jewish Cemetery and the Old New Synagogue in Prague's Jewish Quarter. They were joined by Secret Service agents wearing disposable felt yarmulkes.
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, more than 250,000 Czechoslovakian Jews perished in the Holocaust, with more than 60 synagogues destroyed. The reason the Jewish area of Prague remains is because Adolph Hitler decided to preserve both the Jewish Museum and the entire Jewish Quarter as the "Museum of an Extinct Race."

The Virtual Library says 356,830 Jews lived in the country before the Holocaust. In 2006, the Czech Republic was home to an estimated 6,000 Jews.

Michaela Sideberg, the visual arts curator of the Jewish Museum, led the first lady on much of the tour, which was described as being rather somber. On the walls of Pinkas Synagogue are inscribed more than 77,000 names of Holocaust victims from the area.

The first lady also entered a room displaying art by Jewish children created between 1942 and 1944 in Terazin, a transit station for Jews who were being sent to concentration camps. Approximately 12,000 gravestones are in the Old Jewish Cemetery, though some estimates have 100,000 people buried in the space. First lady Obama made several stops along the way, including at the oldest gravestone of Avigdor Kara (1439), who lost his entire family in the Prague Pogrom of 1389.

The most famous grave in the cemetery is that of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, an important Talmudic scholar and Jewish mystic who created the mythical tale of the Golem, whom you may know from Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

The tradition is for visitors to leave on Lowe's grave a small piece of paper on which is written a secret wish, and Sideberg says Michelle Obama followed tradition.

"She had it prepared," said Sideberg. "And I think it’s a secret."

Afterwards, at the Old-New Synagogue, Michelle Obama greeted several dignitaries -- František Bányai, president of the Jewish Community Prague, and Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon -- and was given a glass Kiddush cup. (ABC)

Click here to read the entire article.