Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Lost

After four or so years of seeing it in bookstores, I recently purchased Daniel Mendelsohn's The Lost, a book about the author's quest to find out what happened to his relatives during the Holocaust. It's a little more than that, in that the author went back and researched his family tree going back to the 1800's. So he has a good handle on who was who and how all the pieces fit together. The missing piece, however, consists of the six who did not leave Poland (now Ukraine) before 1939, and who, like six million others, would come to regret that decision, assuming the decision was there for the taking.

The book has rekindled my own efforts at trying to find more about my grandmother's history in Poland, which, to this point, has resulted in the same results as those from the prior few years where I've tried to find information. I have learned where her parents are buried however, and went to Brooklyn to have a look. I also learned where three of her brothers are buried and I'll be going to New Jersey to view their monuments as well. If nothing else, my goal is to discover birth dates, and then try either through email or in person in the future, to go to the Polish State Archives to get birth certificates. The idea of going to the State Archives was taken from the book, where the author was successful in locating birth certificates; I figured I had to go to the town of Rozan and visit the municipal office there, which I did in 2009, coming away empty as I walked in without any birth dates, only names.

I also learned for certain that her hometown is Rozan, Poland, something I was starting to doubt. Her parents and brothers are buried in Rozan burial societies, which proves her memory is right. However, I am suspicious that she may not remember her original last name correctly, as when I type Brzoza in at online databases, the returns are never helpful.

Genealogy is one of those things that you really have to delve into early, for there will come a time when no one will be around to answer all the questions that need to be asked about the past. Mendelsohn was fortunate to start early, although he laments not starting early enough. He remembers, as so many of us do, being around old people as a youngster, people who would ultimately pass away, only to find out who they were later in life, discovering the wealth of familial information that was lost by not asking the questions when he had the opportunity. That's the problem, among many problems, with being young, I suppose. The answers are there in front of you, you just have to ask the question, but as a young person, you are more fascinated with toys, and maybe girls (if you're male), and sports, and everything else that surrounds one's world. Genealogy is not top of mind when a person is, say, 10 years old.

I remember in the 4th grade, Mr. Salka had us do a family tree. I remember my father on the phone with my grandmother, the one who passed away 10 years ago next month, asking questions. The assignment didn't push me to learn more, and I can't remember how far back or even what the family tree ultimately looked like once it was complete. What's worse, is that my parents never asked any questions either, which is strange to me; if you have a parent from, say, Poland, wouldn't you want to know something about her past? Or about the one sister that didn't leave Poland before 1939 and because of that, would never leave Poland and find herself among the six million?

It's unfortunate that I've let all this time pass, and that I let life and all the other things I was into get in the way of understanding the past. It's odd, I think, that I would only begin to be fascinated with this topic over the last eight to ten years, but then again, the seed that has brought this career change found its beginnings at the same time. It's been a holistic transformation, one which I find some difficulty in finding the absolute cause. My hope now is to find the birth dates of these few from Rozan, confirm their original last name, and then figure out how to approach the Polish State Archives to get birth certificates and anything else they may have available. I think others should do the same.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

JC Festival in Krakow

Ruth Ellen Gruber shares this video of last year's Jewish Culture Festival, held annually in the Kazimierz section of Krakow, the former Jewish Quarter. As she points out, the footage leans heavily on the music and doesn't cover many of the other activities that take place during the festival, such as workshops, exhibits, and performances.

Sadly, I have not been to the festival yet, and I can't go this June, as I'll be in Kosovo finishing my degree in International Affairs. It's a shame though, as it looks like an extraordinary event for anyone interested in European Jewry and the rich heritage found in places like Poland. It's also wonderful to see Poles involving themselves in Jewish culture; many of the Poles who attend, I assume, are young, and probably haven't met many Jews, unless of course they've traveled to places like New York or Israel. I might be speaking way out of turn - I like being wrong, though, as being wrong usually means you learn something new! And as I've said before, it's important I think for young Poles to understand and recognize the pivotal role their country played in the lives of the Jewish people and in the lives of the Polish people over the last 900 years or so as well. It's all very fascinating and worthwhile to explore.

20th Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland from Jewish Culture Festival on Vimeo.

Tsunami Video from Japan

Shocking video from the earthquake in Japan. Something out of one of those Hollywood disaster movies we've grown accustomed to living in the U.S.