Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Polish Property Restitution

The head of the Helsinki Commission at the United States Congress, Senator Ben Cardin, has criticized Poland for delaying the process of dealing with the restitution of Jewish property confiscated during and after WW II.

Speaking during the session of the Helsinki Commission in Washington, Senator Ben Cardin indicated Poland and Lithuania as the two countries which have done least to solve the problem.


I
n March 2001, the Polish parliament approved a law for the restitution of private property, though the right to file a claim was limited to those with Polish citizenship as of December 31, 1999. The law was subsequently vetoed by the President of Poland. The Terezin Declaration, a nonbinding set of guiding principles aimed at faster, more open and transparent restitution of art, private and communal property taken by force or under duress during the Holocaust, was approved at the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference in June last year. Poland was a signature to the non-binding agreement.

Senator Cardin added he was aware that due to the relocation of borders and massive resettlements of people following the war, property restitution in Poland is a complicated issue. “Solving of the problem is difficult but not impossible” he added. (Polskie)


Click here to read the entire article.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Announcement: Extended hours at the Center for Jewish History Genealogy Institute

The Center for Jewish History recently announced that they are extending the operating hours of the Lillian Goldman Reading Room and the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute to six days a week.

Beginning on Sunday, June 6, 2010, scholars, students and the general public will have the opportunity to conduct on-site research every Sunday from 11am – 4pm. The full array of electronic resources and the open stack reference collection will be available on Sundays. Additionally, materials from the archival and library collections of American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, and the library of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research will be available upon request.

All requests for Sunday usage must be received by 5pm on the preceding Thursday. To make a request, please visit www.catalog.cjh.org, login or become a registered user, search for the materials you wish to request, and click the “Reserve” link on the left side of the item record. Once you fill out the required fields, your request will be processed. Should you have any difficulty in identifying materials or placing a request, please contact reference services at 917-606-8217 or publicservices@cjh.org.

In addition to new Sunday hours, the Center offers research hours on
  • Mondays from 9:30am – 7:30pm
  • Tuesdays – Thursdays from 9:30am – 5:30pm
  • Fridays from 9:30am – 1:30pm.
Please note that YIVO archival collections are available Monday – Thursday from 9:30am – 5:00pm. For more information, please visit www.cjh.org.

Creating American Jewish History In Columbus, Ohio

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Toby Brief, Project Director, Cindy McLaughlin, Project Archivist & Archivist, Columbus Jewish Historical Society, and Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, American Jewish Legacy

The Columbus Jewish Historical Society (CJHS) in Columbus, OH, is sponsoring two simultaneous exhibits:

FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE PRAIRIE: 350 YEARS OF KOSHER & JEWISH LIFE IN AMERICA, 1654-2004

This traveling exhibit is coming to Ohio for the first time. It documents the life and kosher traditions of Jews who came to America. It was created by American Jewish Legacy .

LEGACY 2010: 170 YEARS OF JEWISH LIFE IN CENTRAL OHIO, 1840-2010

This exhibit was created from memories, treasured family artifacts and contributions of Columbus Jewish families from the earliest days of settlement. The exhibit is a truly collaborative effort of many in the community. The hope was that visitors to the exhibit would visit and contribute their family histories and information which would then be added to the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Archive.

A calendar of all events associated with the exhibits can be seen here. There is no charge to see the exhibits. However, some of the special events do have a charge. Group tours can be arranged by contacting the CJHS office at 614-238-6977, history@tcjf.org or Toby Brief, Project Director, tbrief@hotmail.com.

Stalin Twice Called Off Hitler Assassination Attempts

The Soviet leadership had at least two real chances to assassinate Adolf Hitler, but Stalin cancelled the plans over fears that Nazi Germany could strike a separate peace deal with the West, a retired Russian general said on Tuesday.

"A concrete plan to assassinate Hitler in his bunker was developed, but Stalin suddenly cancelled it in 1943 over fears that after Hitler's death his associates would conclude a separate peace treaty with Britain and the United States," Gen. (Ret.) Anatoly Kulikov, the chairman of the Club of Military Commanders, told a conference on military history in Moscow.


"We have documental evidence confirming that these talks took place," he added.


He also said Soviet Union had a second opportunity to kill Hitler in 1944 when the intended assassin managed to infiltrate Hitler's entourage and had a high degree of trust among the German leadership.

"A detailed assassination plan was prepared, but Stalin cancelled it again," the former general said.(RIAN)


Click here to read the entire article.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Recovering and Living With Holocaust Years

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Shalom Kaplan aka Shalom Eilati
(Courtesy of Shalom Eilati)

Many times, Jewish Genealogical Societies (JGS) provide important and rewarding programs for their membership and visitors. One of these was sponsored by the JGS (NY), on May 17, 2009. It took the form of a talk by Dr. Shalom Eilati, author of Crossing the River. Originally, the book was published in Hebrew in 1999 as Lachatzot et Ha-Nahar and then published in English by the University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 2008.

It was an engrossing and spellbinding tale from one of the over two hundred child Holocaust survivors from the Kovno Ghetto. Fortunately, with the use of YouTube, the talk can now be seen in a series of three (3) separate YouTube segments (see bottom of this post for video).

Shalom Kaplan was born in 1933 in Kaunas, the son of Israel Kaplan, who was a teacher, historian and an author; and Leah Greenstein, who was a poet and nurse. His mother managed to engineer her son’s escape from the Kovno Ghetto prior to an expected kinderaktion in 1944. Her courage in doing this allowed her son to survive, but “she was not able to save her own life even once” as her son has related in his book.

Shalom was reconnected with his father, who survived the Holocaust, through the efforts of a fund established by Rabbi Abraham J. Klausner (1915-2007), a reform rabbi and chaplain in the U.S. Army. The fund helped to bring child Holocaust survivors from Lithuania to their surviving parent or parents in Germany.


Rabbi Abraham Klausner (sixth from left) and Holocaust Survivors, 1945
(Courtesy of the Klausner Family)


Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Rabbi Klausner was the son of Rabbi Joseph Klausner and his wife Tillie Binstalk. He was well-known as the father figure to 30,000 or so Holocaust survivors of Dachau. He managed to help them transition from the displaced persons camps at the end of the war into their new lives. So it was with Shalom Eilati’s father, Israel Kaplan, who survived Dachau. He was reunited with his son and they were then later able to move to Israel.

Not only can you now listen to Shalom Eilati give his moving talk to the JGS, but you will hear him speak the Yiddish lyrics to a popular Kovno ghetto song “Yidishe Brigades” or “Jewish Brigades” written in September, 1941, by Avrom Akselrod . The song was one of many written by Akselrod and other songwriters which gave hope to the ghetto residents.

“Jewish Brigades”

Bitter times have come upon us—
Times of hardship, and pain,
Gone from us are sun and flowers,
Only labor cards remain.

(Chorus)

Jewish brigades
In patches we parade.
Our troubles we bear,
We never despair!

Inside the ghettos you confined us,
“Actions” take their grisly toll,
Turned us into slaves and robots
To destroy us is your goal.

(Chorus)

So we work for you and labor,
Blows and curses are our wage,
Guard dogs snarl at us and keep us—
Just like beasts inside a cage.

(Chorus)

Just because we do not whimper
When you bear us black and blue,
Do not think that broken bodies
Mean abroken spirit, too.

(Chorus)
Long enough you’ve robbed and stolen
Long enough our people killed—
Long enough the list of victims,
Too much blood has now been spilled.

(Chorus)

Brothers, we shall live to see it,
Our victory and spring,
Aching limbs willthen be straightened
And a new song we will sing.

(Chorus)

Jewish Brigades,
Boldly on parade,
Patches gone, and hand in hand,
March to our ancestral land.

(Reprinted from “Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto”, published by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1997, page 130. Also, on accompanying CD, “Hidden History of Kovno Ghetto/Songs of the Kovno Ghetto”, ISBN 0896046036, Bret Werb,1997. More on the exhibit at the USHMM)

You can also learn about Shalom Eilati’s return to Lithuania and the shtetls of his childhood by clicking here:

This combination of resources brings the reality of the Holocaust into sharp relief, particularly in regard to the survival of those most innocent of victims, the children.

VIDEOS

Recovering and Living with Holocaust Years (Part 1 of 3)


Recovering and Living with Holocaust Years (Part 2 of 3)


Recovering and Living with Holocaust Years (Part 3 of 3)





Friday, May 21, 2010

A Forgotten Memory Comes to Light

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

The other day, I got an e-mail from Regina Kopilevich, a well-known Lithuanian guide and researcher. She mentioned that she had met a retired journalist, Aurelija Akstiniene, who lives in Vilnius, Lithuania. She had been born on a remote farm of fifteen hectares which was in the village of Sakaliskis, nearby to Rokiskis, Lithuania. In the process of talking about her background, Aurelija remembered several long forgotten incidents from her childhood.


In 1941, when she was a young child of nine years old, Aurelija remembered that along with her sister who was five years older and her brother who was one year older, she lived happily on the farm with her father, Antanas Deksnys, who was a feldsher or paramedic, and her mother Monika.

Her father, at the insistence of her mother, took some of his colleagues from the Rokiskis ghetto and “employed” them on his farm. One of Antanas Deksnys’ colleagues had been a doctor, another has been a pharmacist and there was a third who Aurilija did not remember well. It was not uncommon that the majority of doctors and pharmacists in Rokiskis were Jewish.

In order to hire the Jews, her father had to bribe the Gestapo. In confirmation of this, Yad Vashem records that the Rokiskis Jews were brought daily to perform forced labor for local farmers. When someone approached the farm, these Jews picked up a rake or pitchfork or other farm implement and pretended that they worked there.

One Saturday, her mother Monika cooked fish for shabbes and by the next Sunday, the Jews had all been taken away. This concurs with the Yad Vashem data that the men were taken away August 15-16, 1941 and then the women, children and the elderly on August 25, 1941. See also the Rokiskis Shtetlink site and the Rokiskis Yizkor Book.

One of the Jewish families on the farm was named Cindel and another was the Sher family. The Sher (spelled Ser in the records) family had originally come to Rokiskis from Moletai, Lithuania, when Chaim ben Leizer Ser had married Sore-Braine Levin from Rokiskis on August 20, 1882. Their son, Teodoras Sher, became a pharmacist and married Rocha-Leja Cindelyte and they later had a daughter Sora-Braine, who was born January 2, 1933.

It was this family who had remained a long-forgotten suppressed memory in Aurilija’s mind. Teodoras’ daughter had been Aurelija’s age and she missed the girl because they had played together in the courtyard of the farm and had become friendly. Due to the children’s evident bond to one another, Aurelija’s parents had offered to keep Sora-Braine as a playmate for their daughter. However, her parents did not want to separate themselves from their child. At that point, they did not realize what the future held for them.

No one thought that these people would be taken away and brutally shot to death and buried in a pit in the forest. The four forest killing sites for Rokiskis residents were Steponiai forest (July, 1941), Vizunai forest (July, 1941), Valniadova grove (August 15-16, 1941), and Atanusa forest (August 25, 1941).



Bajorai Killing Site

There is no comprehensive list of the many Jews killed in Rokiskis, as approximately 3,000 Jews were living in the shtetl in 1939. Many more had fled there to find safety as the war progressed as well as a number from surrounding towns who were gathered there to be killed.

Memories such as this, from Lithuanians like Aurelija, who were children at the time, permit a brief flicker of remembrance for those who were killed. They are a strong reminder too of the pitiless way so many were destroyed in this Lithuanian community without a prayer or headstone to mark their passing.

Hungarian Database Update

Posted by Sam Schleman

We are pleased to announce that we have added
approximately 14,000 new birth, marriage and death records to JewishGen's All Hungarian Database.

Even more significant, this update completes the transcription of all Miskolc vital records available from the Hungarian National archives and filmed by the Family History Library of the Mormons.

There are now approximately 36,000 birth, marriage and death records for Miskolc in the database.


This is due primarily to the efforts and tremendous persistence of Gary Deutsch, who has worked on these records over a period of five or more years. Gary has both led a team of volunteers to accomplish this undertaking, while also transcribing the majority of these records himself.


The volunteers assisting Gary with the most recent records are András Hirschler, Moshe Lorber and Zvika Oren. A number of other volunteers assisted with the previous records, already in the AHD.


We are all grateful to Gary and his team for this major accomplishment. This is a tremendous contribution to Hungarian-Jewish genealogy.


There are now over 280,000 vital records and over 800,000 total records in the All Hungarian Database.


Sam Schleman
Project Coordinator
Hungarian Vital Records Project

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shavuot

In observance of Shavuot , the JewishGen offices will be closed on Wednesday, May 19th and Thursday, May 20th.

Wishing you and your families a Chag Sameach and Happy Shavuot,

The JewishGen Team

Success! Finding My Relatives with Skype, Google, Facebook and, of course, JewishGen

About a year ago on this blog, I reported of my success using JewishGen to locate my TABAKIN family that was separated by the Holocaust. (You can read that article here). This encouraged me to continue the search, and today I can share another story.

The search for Tabakin family members became my almost day-to-day business for the last several years. This family originated in Birzai, Lithuania and descended from Iosel Tabakin, who was born around the 1790’s. The fact that this surname is relatively rare was very helpful for the search.

I found Denis Tabakin, who lives in South Africa, a long time ago using the Skype directory. He told me that his ancestors came to South Africa from Lithuania, but we couldn't find any matches in the names. Over the time, using JewishGen and Lithuanian archives, I was able to collect many more names of Tabakin family members, but still couldn't connect them to Denis.

At the same time I set up Google alerts for the keyword Tabakin. This service sends an automatic e-mail every time a Google search engine finds a new keyword on-line. (Click here to learn more).

One of the many documents used to discover the Tabakin family

About half year ago I got a message mentioning an artist Bonita Tabakin. I quickly found her e-mail and asked her the usual questions about her roots. To my disappointment she didn't know much, but also mentioned that Lithuania is possibly one of the places where her ancestors came from. After several messages from me she relayed my questions to her aunt Hattie Shocket (Tabakin) and from that point things started to move much faster.

It just so happened that Hattie has a relative, Joan Meister, who is a genealogist and is very experienced in the Lithuanian ancestry. Using JewishGen she quickly connected our families and traced our roots to my great-great-great-great grandfather, Iosel Tabakin. As it appeared, the names of Hattie's father was already on my family tree, but I obviously didn't know anything about his descendants. It was interesting to discover that Hattie's brother and Bonita's father is a Hollywood actor Ralph Tabakin.

Hattie wrote me a very detailed letter describing her family, a big part of which lives in South Africa. However, Hattie didn't have contact with them over the last 25 years. To my surprise, the list of South African family contained the name of Denis Tabakin. At that point I felt that my puzzle was solved.

Slowly I learned that I have a large group of relatives in South Africa. The next step was the easiest – finding them on Facebook, which only took a couple of days. That's how my family tree grew by tens of family members almost overnight.

Thank you JewishGen!
Igal Sokolov
Do you have a similar success story? We would love to publish it! Please send us a note by clicking here.

Mazal Tov to Schelly Dardashti

On behalf of JewishGen, we wish a hearty Mazal Tov and congratulations to fellow Jewish Genealogy blogger Schelly Talalay Dardashti, upon receiving the "Excellence: Genealogical Methods and Sources" award at the recently concluded National Genealogical Society conference.

Schelly's article that earned her the nomination was entitled "Ties That Bind"
(published in the September 2009 issue of Family Tree Magazine), and focused on Jewish Genealogical research methodology and strategy.

Schelly has not only created and maintained an active blog providing useful and timely information to Jewish family researchers, but she herself has become an expert in the Jewish Genealogical field, and is a sought after speaker at various venues throughout the world.

Be sure to click here and leave a congratulatory comment on Schelly's blog.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Flood threat to Auschwitz archives

The former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was closed to visitors on Monday as torrential rain sparked a flood alert across southern Poland, the museum at the site said.

"The archives, documents and all the materials at ground level are currently being taken up to the next floor," Mr Mensfelt told AFP. "We started the operation after local authorities issued a flood alert," he said. "Everyone who's able to carry something has been mobilized," he added, noting that the museum's entire 250-strong staff was involved.

The River Sola runs a few hundred meters (yards) from Auschwitz, the site of the original camp set up in 1940 by Poland's German occupiers in the southern Polish city of Oscwiecim.

Besides the archives, the section houses displays on its history and the museum administration, in a former Polish army base that the Nazis transformed into a camp a year after the start of World War II.

The Nazis opened the notorious, purpose-built Birkenau camp nearby in 1942. One million of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly in its gas chambers. (YNET)

Click here to read the entire article.

Yizkor Book Necrology Database Update

The JewishGen Yizkor Book Necrology Database has been updated with more than 8,800 additional entries from 17 Yizkor Books:

Hungary
  • Mad - 292 entries
  • Mezokovesd - 749 entries
Poland
  • Bilgoraj - 37 entries
  • Chmielnik - 1,231
  • Dabrowa Bialostocka - 183
  • Jaroslaw - 179
  • Jedrzejow - 1,975
  • Krasnystaw - 281
  • Leczyca - 468
  • Przedborz - 526
  • Raciaz - 693
  • Warka - 92
  • Zambrow - 106
Romania
  • Gherla (Szamosujvar) - 372

Slovakia
  • Sahy (Ipolysag) - 1,060

Ukraine
  • Rava-Ruska - 530 entries
  • Stavishche - 95
About the Database:
The JewishGen Yizkor Book Necrology Database indexes the names of
persons in the necrologies -- the lists of Holocaust martyrs --
published in the Yizkor Books (appearing on the Yizkor Book Project
site located here)

This database is only an index of names; it directs researchers back to the Yizkor Book itself, where more complete information may be available.

This database currently contains over 225,000 entries from the necrologies of 258 different Yizkor Books.

Thanks to Michael Tobias, Max Heffler, Lance Ackerfeld, and all of our Yizkor Book donors and translators. Our special thanks to Yad Vashem for contributing many
of these necrologies to JewishGen.

We could use additional volunteers to continue the project. If you have HTML or experience with text parsing, or would like to help transliterate necrologies into English, please contact Warren Blatt by clicking here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Extension for Berlin Jewish Museum

Berlin's Jewish Museum unveiled plans to help in its growing role in teaching people about the Holocaust.

Since opening in 2001 in central Berlin, the museum has attracted more than six million people from all over the world, with 750,000 visiting in 2009 alone.

In the same period the number of education projects organized by the museum has more than doubled, with thousands of school groups visiting every year in addition to hundreds of educational events taking place.


Together with its growing archive and library holdings, this has resulted in an "acute" lack of space, the museum said.


The museum tells the story of 2,000 years of Jewish history in Germany, with special focus on the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis, including through the poignant use of empty space.(AFP)

Click here for the entire article and here to visit the museum website.

LiberatingJerusalem in 1967

In honor of Yom Yerushalayim (which was yesterday) we are linking to this video taken during the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967.


Beth Israel Synagogue roots run deep

Beth Israel Synagogue (Kingston, Ontario) is celebrating a milestone. It has been 100 years since its formation and members and former members are gathering for a homecoming weekend.

The history of the Jewish community in Kingston is rich, varied and one of perseverance. In the late 1800s, a group of Jews arrived in Kingston, one of which was Simon Oberndeorffer. Of German descent, he owned and operated a cigar factory in Kingston and was also a founding member of a Jewish congregation. He became the first Jew elected to the Kingston Board of Aldermen in 1892.

There were several Jewish congregations at that point and in 1908 those congregations came together after a man named Isaac Cohen promised to build a synagogue if they agreed to come together. They became known as the Beth Israel Congregation, and the synagogue opened in 1910. The congregation left the original building in the mid 1950s and the new building was opened in 1961 at 116 Centre Street.

When the congregation was formed there were approximately 200 Jews in Kingston; most came from Germany, Poland and Russia to escape the trials and tribulations of persecution.

Some of these early families —Abramsky, Abrams, Malinoff, Robinson, Smith, Morris — are still prominent here today. In Kingston they found acceptance and a place where they could become very productive members of society.

Many Jews chose to be peddlers and retailers because they needed to have professions which allowed them to be able to practice their religion and honour the Sabbath. Traditionally the Sabbath runs from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday.

In 1857 there were five Jews in Kingston; by 1922 that number had grown to 300. Currently, the Orthodox congregation numbers approximately 350, but there are as many as 800 Jews in Kingston.

Beth Israel did not have a rabbi leading the congregation until 1942 when Rabbi Gilbert Klaperman took the position. His appointment evolved because of a Jewish organization called Hillel that opened branches on campuses across North America beginning in the late 1930s. Kingston was one of the first Hillels in North America. Rabbi Daniel Elkin has been at the synagogue since 1997. (Kingston This Week)

Click here to read the entire article and here to visit the Beth Israel Synagogue website.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Finding a Professional Genealogist

For the convenience of JewishGen users who are interested in hiring professional genealogical researchers, we have compiled an "active" database of researchers experienced in various aspects of genealogical research.

This material, organized by Peter Haas and Phyllis Kramer, has been collected from users of JewishGen who have had experiences dealing with such professionals.

Click here to access the database and learn more.

The Lithuanian Jewish Spirit Lives On

By Claudia B. Braude
Cape Town, South Africa

Joseph Levinson

JOSEPH LEVINSON, 91, resident of Vilnius, Lithuania, was saved from his father’s horrific fate and that of 95 per cent of Lithuania’s Jewish residents by conscription into the Soviet Army.

Returning to his shtetl in 1945, Veisiejai, witnesses’ accounts of how Jews were murdered made Levinson’s hair “stand on end”. “I listened to how it happened, and I froze... I silently vowed: ‘...these horrors cannot remain unknown. The knowledge should be spread, so that this will never happen again’.”


Levinson spent years “in cellars, libraries and archives” investigating the massacres. When Lithuania gained independence in 1991, he erected memorials at more than 200 Lithuanian mass graves.

Levinson’s testimony and experience are included in “Surviving History: Portraits from Vilna, a multimedia exhibition, launched in Vilnius in September, 2009, and shown the Cape Town Holocaust Centre till April 29, 2010.
Representing the lives of 10 Lithuanian Holocaust survivors, the exhibition includes photographs, video, an award-winning documentary, and archival documentation and biographical objects.

When curator Shivaun Woolfson asked Levinson for an object imbued with personal significance, he gave her his Book of Sorrows documenting his memorial sites. Lynsey Cleaver, one of the international artists who collaborated
on the exhibition, wove it into an interpretive art box representing the survivor’s internal world.

Describing her philosophy of history as explicitly Chassidic, Woolfson affirms the ‘place for spirituality in academic research’. She is influenced by Reb Nachman of Bratslav’s understanding of the transformative relationship between teller and listener: ‘The word moves a bit of air, and this the next, and reaches the soul of the other, of the listener, and his soul therein is awakened.
“Survivors speak to be heard. They wouldn’t speak without someone listening on the other side. In Holocaust narrative, it’s assumed the listener will retell the tale,” she said.

Ensuring their oral testimonies are retold, Surviving History reverses what has become, since the demise of Communism and apartheid, a familiar journey back to Lithuania, ancestral home to many South African Jews. Flowing from the search for traces of immigrant parents and grandparents is a return of memory of the repressed traumatic history.

The exhibition was accompanied by movies and other events representing some of these journeys. The documentary “Kupishok: Unto Each Name a Person” records the 2004 consecration by South African and other survivors and their families of a memorial wall of names of murdered residents of Kupiskis in Lithuania.

In his presentation on Litvak history, including his own research in Lithuania, Ivan Kapelus (whose Kupiskis-born mother-in-law emigrated to Cape Town in 1929), reflected on the significance of this memory for his audience: “South African Jewry has been the heir to the Litvak heritage.

It was the Litvak tradition that gave South African Jewry its communal institutions, orphanages, old aged
home and schools,” he said. Aiming to uncover the living traces of Lithuania’s Jewish heritage, Woolfson (whose grandmother came from Akmene in northern Lithuania) realized Dublin’s tiny Jewish community of her 1960s childhood, was, like South Africa, “a very Litvak world”. “Entering homes in Vilnius, I stepped back in time to my grandmother’s kitchen. Without knowing Yiddish or Russian, this world felt known and familiar,” she said.

Searching for fragments, Woolfson discovered more than overgrown cemeteries and mass murder sites. “The Lithuanian Jewish spirit lives on, in spite of the horrors. Jewish presence in Lithuania is nowhere, yet it is everywhere,” she says. “The material isn’t just about death and loss, but about life and what these individuals held onto. Considering it their sacred duty to keep the past alive, they’re so vibrant. They’re phenomenal for their capacity to keep on choosing life. The harder they’ve struggled, the sturdier they are. “Their compassion, resilience and astonishing courage have touched me deeply. I ask what they want their legacy to be. They answer: ‘kindness, goodness, love for others’.

“People say, ‘you’re not Jewish, why are you doing this work?” said co-curator Francis Tay. “Holocaust education isn’t just about stopping anti-Semitism and racism. It’s about humanity. I’ve never heard anyone talk about love for humanity the way survivor Fanya Brantsovksy talks about love,” she said. “Reaching into humanity, the material puts others in touch with their own humanity.”

Woolfson and Tay were struck by reaction of participants in a teachers’ seminar they conducted at the Cape Town Holocaust Centre.
“The response here was the most alive we’ve had. The teachers immediately drew parallels to South African history, referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One man was grief-stricken, having lost his daughter in a car crash. ‘How do the bereaved continue?’ he asked. “We haven’t previously encountered such a reverential atmosphere when people told their stories, nor people digging so deep,’ said Tay. “Commemoration has a different resonance here.”

The Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre hosts the exhibition at the Rabbi Cyril Harris Community Centre at the Great Park Synagogue until May 16 including an ancillary programme consisting of a screening of “The Kastner Trial” - a three-part television true-life drama, a lecture by Ronnie Mink and “Where is Kovno? - a presentation by Yda Walt and Andy Spitz.
The Durban Holocaust Centre will host it at the Durban Jewish Club from May 25 – June 7.

NOTE: This is reprinted herein with the permission of the author as previously published in SA Jewish Report, Friday, May 7-14, 2010, Volume 14, Number 16, Page 4.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Researcher Seeking Descendents of Letter-Writers

German letters written in 1938-39 should be returned to their descendants, says a Buffalo-area writer and researcher who acquired 300 letters from a local home on E-Bay.

Mary G. Roseberry, a Professor of English at Niagara County Community College, hopes to find grandchildren who would cherish handwritten notes composed by ancestors who were facing Hitler’s virulent attacks against German and Austrian Jews. She has developed a website that lists the letter-writers, some with only given names, some with surnames and the city from which the letter was written. The archive, which Roseberry purchased through an estate sale in Hamburg, New York, near Buffalo, in 2005, also contained pre-war photos and official documents from the period.

The website is www.somebodysstory.com.

“Among the 300 letters are more than 60 from friends to one Minna Peiser Breitbarth in March 1939 when her husband Harry died in Holland, where they had fled,” says Roseberry. “Several were from Breslau (now Wroclaw) and Berlin, but others were sent from cities in Holland, from Prague, London, Rome and the U.S.” The letters chronicle a community facing destruction, and Roseberry has been able to determine that at least a few of the writers later perished in Nazi hands.

“Some writers refer to the troubled times they were living in,” says Roseberry; “however, their significance is not necessarily in the content but in the power of the handwritten word to bring someone to life for us 60 years later.”

Several correspondents fled to Britain in 1938-39, including Suzanne Hammerschlag, Charlotte Lewin, Karl Reiser, and Hans Schneider. Minna Breitbarth’s journey took her from Breslau to Holland, London, and then to the U.S. Her daughter Ursula married Peter Margulies (who changed his name to Marlis) and settled in the buffalo area. Two of Peter Margulies’ siblings escaped to Argentina.

Roseberry has completed a non-fiction manuscript that traces her efforts to reconstruct the story of the couple that came to the Buffalo area in 1941. “There are all those other letters that Ursula’s mother kept,” Roseberry noted, “and it would take a lifetime to trace the writers and find descendants. So I am hoping the website will lead me to at least a few of them who would welcome that connection to their past.” For more information, Please contact Mary G. Roseberry at 716-542-1909.

Polish villagers clean up Jewish cemetery

(hat tip: Eliyahu Hershfeld)

From the Jerusalem Post:

Krakow – A neglected Jewish cemetery in southeastern Poland got a much-needed clean-up last week when a dozen non-Jewish Polish villagers banded together to clear debris and rubbish that had accumulated at the site in recent years.

The burial ground is located in the village of Sokolow Malopolski, which lies some 24 kilometers north of Rzeszow. It dates back to the 18th century and was in use until the local Jewish community was destroyed by the Nazis in World War II.

The initiative was organized by a local civic group, the Sokolow Region Lovers Society, and was carried out in cooperation with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which is responsible for safeguarding thousands of Jewish cultural, historical and religious sites throughout the country.

Jews first settled in Sokolow Malopolski more than 300 years ago. At the end of the 19th century, a Jew served as mayor of the town, which was also home to prominent rabbis such as Meilech Weichselbaum and the hassidic rebbe Aba Hippler.

On the eve of the Holocaust, Sokolow Malopolski was home to more than 1,350 Jews, most of whom were murdered by the Germans in the Belzec death camp.

Click here to read the entire article.

Announcement: JGS of Illinois

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) is pleased to present “From the Shtetl to the 21st Century,” a day dedicated to Jewish genealogy.

Date: Sunday, June 6, 2010.
Location: Temple Beth Israel, 3601 W. Dempster, in Skokie.
Time: 8:00 a.m - 5:15 p.m.

About the conference
The conference will feature key note speaker Ron Arons, nationally known expert on Jewish criminals, Jewish genealogy, and research techniques. Ron will explore new ways to use the Internet to find family information in his entertaining presentation “Online Jewish Genealogy Beyond JewishGen and Steve Morse.” During lunch, Ron will share how his interest in Jewish criminals led him to write the book “The Jews of Sing Sing” and will later lead a session on mapping techniques.

Participants will have the opportunity to choose from three sessions in five time slots, for a total of fifteen different topics focused on Jewish genealogy. Topics include a beginner's workshop, using online resources, Holocaust research, interpreting cemetery monuments, DNA testing, Cook County records, research reasoning, Polish language vital records, how to write your family history, and "Ask the Experts."

“Jewish genealogy is quite popular,” explained JGSI President Mike Karsen. “On the TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, celebrities have traced their roots back to French Royalty and Salem witches. Most genealogists do not expect those results - they are driven by the desire to learn more about their family history, honor their ancestors, and reunite families."

The JGSI library, containing hundreds of genealogy books, will be available for browsing. Volunteers will provide assistance. Kosher food will be provided to all attendees, beginning with bagels and coffee at registration and including a kosher box lunch. Temple Beth Israel is wheelchair accessible. An elevator is available for all participants.

It’s been years since the last local Jewish genealogy conference, so June 6 is a great opportunity to hear many expert speakers in a single day. Attendees will uncover new techniques and insights for researching their roots and revealing their family history.

About the JGS of Illinois
JGSI is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping its members collect, preserve, and perpetuate the records and history of their ancestors. We conduct monthly meetings with speakers, provide access to research materials, publish a newsletter, serve as a Chicago area genealogy resource, and maintain an online searchable death index.

About Ron Arons. Ron Arons won a Hackman Research Residency Award from the New York State Archives to continue his research of New York Jewish criminals, and appeared on the PBS television series, “The Jewish Americans,” as the acknowledged expert on Jewish criminals of New York’s Lower East Side. Ron worked for many years as a marketer at several high-tech companies, earned a B.S. in Engineering from Princeton University, and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

For additional information, please contact Sandy Imyak at (312) 666-0100 or email jgsi@comcast.net. To download the conference brochure and register, visit http://www.jewishgen.org/jgsi/

Friday, May 7, 2010

Success!

Dear JewishGen,

I thank you and your staff for doing a
truly remarkable job.

Through JGFF (JewishGen Family Finder), I identified three 2nd and 3rd cousins and quite a few distant relatives.

Keep up the so wonderful job.


I'll be sending in the money today.

Thank you!


N.D.
New York, USA
Would you like to share a success story of your own?
Please email us by clicking here.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jews make pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue

DJERBA, Tunisia (AFP) – Thousands of Jews on Friday began an annual pilgrimage to Africa's oldest synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba (dating back to 586).

"We have nearly 6,000 visitors this year," Perez Trabelsi, head of the Djerba Jewish community and president of the synagogue, told AFP.


Most of the pilgrims -- around 4,500 came from France -- while around a thousand Israelis came via Egypt, Jordan or Turkey due to the absence of direct air links with Israel.


Trabelsi called for direct flights to be established between Israel and Tunisia, adding that it would triple the number of visitors coming from Israel.


France's chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim would take part in the pilgrimage for the first time this year "in order to give a message of peace (and) of respect for others.
"I am very moved and very impressed by the Jews' way of life in Tunisia and their strict strict attachment to an ancient tradition," Bernheim told AFP.

In 2002, an attack at the Ghriba shrine killed 21 people when a homicide bomber rammed the wall of the synagogue with a lorry laden with natural gas, which blew up killing 14 German tourists, five Tunisians and two French visitors.
The Al-Qaeda network claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Jewish community in Tunisia is still one of the largest in the Arab world but its numbers have dropped from 100,000 on independence from France in 1956 to around 1,500 today. Most emigrated to France or Israel.


Nearly half of those who remain live in Djerba.

Click here for the entire article.

Below are photos of the Djerba Synagogue (courtesy of Sam Schleman).




Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Russian who 'cremated' Adolf Hitler refuses to reveal where he scattered his ashes

From the Daily Mail

Exactly 65 years after Adolf Hitler perished in his Berlin bunker, the man who Moscow claims destroyed his bones today refused to reveal the exact spot in Germany where he 'cremated' the Fuhrer.

Vladimir Gumenyuk, a 73 year old retired KGB officer, vowed to take his secret to his grave so that the location in the countryside around Magdeburg would not become the focus of pilgrimages by neo-Nazis.


The veteran is said to be the last man alive from a team of three who were secretly tasked in 1970 by Yuri Andropov - then KGB leader and later head of the Soviet Union - with digging up the bones of Hitler, his mistress Eva Braun along with the remains of Joseph Goebbels and his family.


Click here for the entire article.

Holocaust Memorial Sparks Heated Debate In NJ Town

The "controversial" memorial

They are memories so painful, they're fueling a heated debate in an unexpected spot.
A neighborhood in Verona, New Jersey is divided over a Holocaust memorial. Some residents say the memorial is a daily reminder of death, and they want it moved.

The memorial is a railroad track leading to a barbed wire-wrapped star bearing the names of concentration camps. It's the vision of Sarah Kriegel, the daughter of Holocaust survivors.


"The tracks are the ones that carried all the people to the death camps, to the labor camps," Kriegel says.


"We have to remember the Holocaust," a Verona resident said.


The memorial, just outside Congregation Beth AHM of West Essex in Verona, brings Jane Janoff to tears – but not for the reasons you may think.


"When my 10-year-old daughter thinks something like this is going to happen to her, she's too young to understand that it's not," Janoff says. "But she really thinks something is going to happen to her because of this memorial."


Janoff, whose husband, Michael, is Jewish, says she doesn't mind having a memorial across from her home. However, she says she's offended by the 11 wooden railroad ties representing the six million Jews and five million Christians killed in the labor camps.


"Really, it's a symbol of death to us," she says.


Janoff and some of her neighbors want the tracks pulled.


"I feel that this memorial is very extreme," one neighbor says.


"I wouldn't even mind if it's temporary, kind of like you have Nativity scenes from Christmas. Fine, I get it. To me, that would be more acceptable," Michael Janoff says. "But every day, day in and day out, I have to think about, 'wow, people died during this event.' It's just horrible."


Rabbi Aaron Kriegel says the tracks are an important teaching tool, and he has no plans to remove them.
"If we took out the tracks, we would just be giving in to the senseless kind of thinking that says, 'well, I can close my eyes while evil happens and pretend that it's not there,'" Rabbi Kriegel says. Residents complained to the Town of Verona, but the town manager says there's nothing they can do because the memorial doesn't violate any statutes or codes

Click here for the entire article.

Monday, May 3, 2010

ViewMate Update

Posted by Sam Eneman

The ViewMate team continues to improve the look and usability of ViewMate. On 1 May 2010, ViewMate added these new enhancements:

  • New, easier to understand navigation menu
  • Support for new image file types TIFF, PNG and GIF, in addition to JPEG
  • Bookmark and share images and pages using more than 200 Web 2.0 tools -- Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, Digg and more
  • Filter and sort images on the Gallery page -- new ways to organize and view the posted images
  • Rotate a full-sized image while translating -- easier to read words in the margins
  • Display of time remaining for each image in the Gallery
  • Updated FAQs for managing and editing your submissions
About ViewMate
ViewMate is the JewishGen service where participants submit letters, documents and photos for translation and to identify people, clothing, artifacts, etc.

Click here here to access ViewMate.

Addendum to Historical Postcards

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz

After posting my article, Historical Postcards, I realized that I had left off several significant resources for postcards which are not online and will now make amends. The following areas are those that can be visited in person:

Postcard Clubs
The Postcard Clubs are a local resource that genealogists can either visit or join to learn about postcards, identify ones they have already and obtain new ones or sell old ones. One of the oldest continuously running such clubs is the Metropolitan Postcard Club of New York.

As you will note, if you go to their site, their International Spring Postcard Show is being held May 14-16, 2010, at the New Yorker Hotel in New York City. This is a good opportunity to see what is on offer and learn a bit more about postcards.

This was suggested to me by Linda Cantor, who is a member, and realized that I had left off this important resource for postcards.

Whilst there is not a centralized schedule for postcard club events around the world, a good site to see what postcard shows are scheduled in the U.S. is http://www.postal-history.com/showpage.html.

In other places outside the United States, one of the most prestigious shows is the BIPEX which is held in England. The announcement for this show is pictured at the top of this article. Another series of shows are those scheduled in Toronto, Canada, for: May 30, August 8, and October 17, 2010, in the Thornhill Community Centre. It is best to Google the town/country you are interested in to find what is scheduled.

FAIRS, FESTIVALS, MARKETS, AND YARD SALES
There are an abundance of outdoor fairs, festivals and markets worldwide where stalls contain memorabilia such as postcards. Very often, these are held during the summer months, but some are held year-round no matter the weather. They may have postcards that are specifically linked to the particular location where they are found, but you may find postcards from everywhere displayed as well.

Whenever I am traveling, I try and stop at such places and see what is available. Major international cities, very often, have wonderful large selections of cards such as London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, St. Petersburg, etc. However, the small places may surprise you with unusual and worthwhile selections.

Another interesting outdoor venue for collecting postcards is the yard sales which are prevalent in many places. It is surprising what kinds and types of postcards can be found if one looks around. These cards are also usually reasonably priced.

BOOK AND ANTIQUE STORES
As I very often stop at book and antique stores when I travel, I have found that they may have selections of postcards of various kinds. This is particularly true of used bookstores which one has to really search for and seek out nowadays.

My favorite independent bookstore in Miami is Books & Books and sometimes they have a nice boxful of such postcards in their Antiquarian Room. Also, one of my other favorite bookstores in Manhattan, the Strand Bookstore, has many books about postcards.

Very often, antique dealers or shop owners are postcard collectors, so you will find a selection of postcards in their stores. Another similar, but less expensive venue is the many thrift shops which abound in many towns. They are worth visiting and there may be ones which are sponsored by Jewish charities such as Brandeis University, a Jewish Home for the Aged or WIZO, which have just the postcard you are looking for.

AUCTIONS
Very often, there are regularly scheduled auctions which one can attend in person or which are online. These are quite interesting as they can contain blocks of postcards from private collections or individual cards. One can easily Google these events for your particular location and you may find that many may be associated with postcard shows. The major auction houses such as Sotheby’s even have Collectibles Departments which handle such items as postcards.

CONCLUSION
As can be seen, postcards can be found in a wide variety of venues and half the fun of finding them is the search. It is quite worthwhile making this search to locate an image of your ancestor, perhaps one of their ancestral shtetl or even of an event that took place during their residence in their shtetl. These long ago glimpses into the past do much to enhance our knowledge of our ancestors’ lives.