Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Jewish New Year in the Synagogues, Brooklyn, 1919,the Treaty of Versailles, and the Condition of European Jewry


The Jewish synagogue, over time, have been the place where many countless sermons have been given. The content of these sermons often has reflected the state of world Jewry. It is often during the Rosh Hashanah services, where we welcome in the New Year, that he (or she) who gives the sermon waxes quite eloquently, often to the point of moving the audience both in thought and with great emotion.

In that spirit, I have found in an old Brooklyn Standard Union newspaper, dated September 25, 1919, an interesting article, which relates to the reader the dire state of the European Jews, post-World War II, especially after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This was one of the peace treaties (signed 28 June 1919, to be effective 10 January 1920), this one between Germany and the three principal Allied Powers.

The article tells us in part of what was said in the sermons given by Drs. Raisin and Levinthal, who each gave a sermon at a specific synagogue, both located in Brooklyn, the latter at Temple Petach Tikvah. See the article below.
 
JEWISH NEW YEAR IN THE SYNAGOGUES
Celebration of Rosh Hashanah Also in Army Camps and Naval Bases.

USE THEATRES FOR TEMPLES


Sermons by Drs. Raisin and Levninthal on European Situation

The celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which began at sundown last night in the temples and synagogues throughout the greater city, with special services and prayers, was continued today, in all the army camps and naval bases where there are Jewish sailors and soldiers who were unable to take advantage of the furlough granted to men of that faith services were conducted under the auspices of the Jewish Welfare Board.
All the temples and synagogues throughout the city were crowded at the services last evening and this morning, and in some sections of the city where the synagogues would not accommodate the crowded motion picture houses and vaudeville theatres were rented for the services. Special services were also held at the various branches of the Young men’s Benevolent Association.

Rabbi Raisin on Conditions in Europe
Speaking at the New Year service of the Brooklyn Synagogue, which is worshipping at Albany Avenue and St. Johns Place, Dr. Max Raisin, rabbi of the congregation, spoke on the deplorable situation of the Jews in Europe, particularly in Poland.

“At the present moment the fate of the Jews in war-ridden Europe cries to the very heavens for protest and redress,” he said. “It is a fate cruel and bitter. For the treaty signed at Versailles, even though unintentionally, had dealt a terrible blow to millions of our brethren.  By the terms of that treaty, four millions of Jews who hitherto were secure in their rights under the firm rule of Germany and Austria-Hungary have been transferred to the medieval dominion of states newly created or enlarged, where their constitutional rights are mocked at, and the safety of their lives and property is at the mercy of barbarians. Bessarabia and parts of Austria-Hungary have gone to Romania, while Posen and Galicia, as well as parts of Lithuania, have been incorporated in the new Poland, and as a result the progress in a daily concurrence there and Jewish blood is flowing in currents without let or hindrance from the outside world.
“The Treaty of Versailles maybe be said to have been a sad failure from the very moment of its conception, and the reason for it is that it came to gratify the boundless selfishness of some of the victorious Allies to the neglect of the smaller and weaker national units. We still remember the grandiloquent words uttered by many a statesman about self-determination and the protection of the weak. Today we find those sublime principles but a mockery and derision. Is there real peace in the world today? The facts we are facing tell a different story. There is peace for a few great and mighty nations like England, France, Italy and the United States; there is war and death for Russia, Galicia, Posen, the Ukraine and Poland. The much talked of League of Nations has proved abortive, even before its consummation.”

Bitter Arraignment of World's Treatment of Jew.

A bitter arraignment of the world's treatment of the Jew was made in the sermon preached this morning by Rabbi Israel Herbert Levinthal before an audience that filled every seat in Temple Petach Tikvah, Rochester Avenue and Lincoln Place. Speaking on “The Secret of Israel’s Immortality,” the Rabbi said, in part:

“A year ago today the world was full of bloodshed and tears and sorrow. We felt that we were fighting to usher in a better day: we believed that we were offering up our lives so that all humanity shall be more blessed, so that democracy shall be triumphant throughout the world, that freedom shall be enjoyed by all. And we Jews too had dared to hope that this war would help to bring nearer the day of good will on earth and true brotherhood amongst men: We had dared to hope that the world would desire to show its appreciation for the heroic part played by the Jews in this war for freedom, by allowing them at least to live in safety, without harm, In the lands of their birth.

"Today the war, thank God, is over. Our boys have come back. And yet, what has become of that hope, that faith that gave us strength and courage to endure all suffering a year ago today? Yes, Germany lies vanquished. Never again will she dare to terrorize a whole world; no more will we aspire for world conquest or world domination. But, I ask you, Is democracy triumphant; is liberty exalted; does freedom hold sway in those lands that were supposed to be battling for democracy and liberty? Behold the mighty exponent of modern democracy—Poland! See to what civilizing use she is making of her new-found liberty. Her soldiers display their bravery by shooting down innocent and helpless Jewish men and women, and amuse their fellow-Poles with the fine sport of shattering the brains of little Jewish children, they have established democracy, and they prove it by desecrating Jewish synagogues and schools, by ravaging Jewish women, by tearing beards and the flesh too from the faces of old Jewish men. Well might we too cry out: ‘O Liberty! O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!’

“Today, on Rosh Hashanah, the holiest season in all the year, we come to the synagogue to renew our faith in the living God, who sleepeth not, nor slumbereth. Today we come to the synagogue to accept the challenge of the world and to proclaim to all our enemies that as long as we are on the side of God, we cannot be crushed; we will not be downed. The Jew, the world by this time should have learned, is invincible, unconquerable, aye, immortal.”

Saturday, August 31, 2013

To help you all celebrate and make meaningful the New Year, I'd like to share with you an online exhibition that I've made available on my Museum of Family History website for a number of years now entitled "Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays." There is a variety of informative webpages and old newspaper articles, photos of artifacts from Eastern Europe, etc. This exhibition covers Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Chanukah, Shavuous, Sukkos, etc. Hope you enjoy them! The link is http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/jholidays-main.htm

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

An Interview with Steven Lasky, Founder of the Museum of Family History

I was pleased to take part recently in my first interview (which I quickly became enthusiastic about), as it was to be featured on a blog that had to do with how one "lovingly brings artistic workmanship and quality to the study of family history". I take pride in the fact that I have been able to use my ample imagination and artistic workmanship in the creation of my virtual museum. So I thought of responding affirmatively -- with no hesitation -- to the suggestion of the blog's creator, Sarah Ashley, for an interview. Her blog, by the way, is geneartistry.com. You should visit her blog when you have the time and see what it has to offer.

You can read the interview in its entirety below. Since you probably are a subscriber to my blog and have an interest in the Museum of Family History, you might like to read the history of how the Museum came into being, as well as some of my own personal history, motivations, ideas and hopefully inspirational speech about how important it is to honor and preserve not only our own family history, but history in general -- as I've done with own Museum, Jewish history. So here goes. Your comments are always welcome! There were eight questions posed by Sarah, which I responded to in written form:

1. My mission, through geneartistry, is to explore and promote the intersection between family history and artistic expression. I feel truly fortunate to have discovered the Museum of Family History which is such a wonderfully creative and dynamic way to honor Jewish families. Can you tell my readers what inspired you to create the site, and how you got started?

There were many sources of inspiration that led me to create my virtual museum. It was a part of an evolutionary process, a step in my own “journey of self-discovery” – so to speak – as I sought to find further meaning in my life. Although I chose to become an optometrist as my life’s work more than thirty years ago, I think there was always this latent desire for creativity, language, for learning about Jewish history and culture that I had suppressed for a number of years in order to become an optometrist. I had done little with it until later in my life. The road that led me to the creation of a museum of Jewish history began when I left my job as an optometrist in Southern California, choosing to go on my first trip abroad before returning home to New York. So I backpacked through Europe in the early eighties and visited ten countries in ten weeks. Since then my “wanderlust” has taken me to more than forty countries, and I’ve had the opportunity to visit many of the art museums of the world. I’ve seen history (and art) in all its glory, studied French and Spanish and art for brief periods of time in Paris and Mexico. I saw so many layers of history in one place. It was amazing. My imagination was stimulated. Eventually I became an amateur pastel portraitist back in New York, which further awoke my “creative juices”. So this really was the early “underpinning” to all that I have done to this point, which ultimately led me to that desire to build a virtual museum.

I was also inspired by my love of family and close relatives, as well the fondness I had for the positive memories of my youth. I also wanted very much to keep Jewish history and culture alive, which I feel is so important, as I have seen over the years how the appreciation of Jewish history and culture has so diminished, at least in my opinion. To me, the past is not simply the past to be relegated to the history books, but is essentially part of the mosaic that tells us and the world who we are as a people. I wanted to do what I could to inspire others so they would think more about their own family history and to talk about their own family history with their children, grandchildren et al, and in this way they would be honoring and preserving the memory of their family for the present and hopefully future generations.

Earlier you asked how I got started with all of this. As I recall, in November 2002 I was sitting in the den of the family house watching television, when I happened to glance off to the side, and I noticed under my mother’s collection of old LPs within her lamp table, one of those envelopes that drug stores give you when you pick up your developed photos and negatives. Inside of this envelope was a stack of old family photographs – black and white photographs of my mother, grandparents, my uncles and my aunts. These photos were yellowing a bit and were curled up as photos are prone to do when they were taken more than sixty years earlier. I asked my mother why they weren't included in any of her other family albums, and of course she couldn't tell me. Then it instantly occurred to me how precious these photos were to me at least, and that I didn’t want them to get lost or otherwise discarded. Imagine finding such old photos of your dear family that you’ve never seen before – I felt like a kid in a candy store. So I then decided to put these curled-up photos into a photo album, while at the same time fully reorganizing our entire family photo collection.

Not long after this I had this idea of creating family newsletters, or "journals", to be published on paper, about sixteen to twenty-four pages long (double-sided), one version for each side of my family, and then I would send them out on a quarterly basis (in a clear report cover and slide-lock) for about a year-and-a-half. This wasn’t one of your “typical” family journals, because they contained family photos, interviews with family members, historical articles (that I wrote), and even a master calendar (with family birthdays) and a Yahrzeit list (just so folks wouldn’t forget).

This idea of creating a family journal was a great one (in my mind) for a number of reasons. Somehow in the course of conducting my research I got to meet cousins whom I had never met before (nor would I have ever met them if it wasn't for my project), as well as to visit my dear cousins whom I hadn't seen since I was a bar-mitzvah so many decades before. It’s funny if not sad how often we see relatives when we are younger, but with time and distance the chances of further meetings become less frequent, so that most often we only see them at weddings, bar mitzvahs or funerals.

It’s strange how these things work out, isn’t it? As I met with everyone, I made sure I interviewed them (digital recorder in hand), and with this I began to gather information about my own family tree – stories about a number of my family members I never would have heard otherwise. Then I transcribed some of them onto paper, for posterity and possible further use.

Somewhere within that year-and-a-half of publishing my family journals (I called “Family Circles”), I decided that it would be wonderful if I could switch from paper journals to a website – it would be easier I thought, once I learned the “ins-and-outs” of how to create such a website, which I had never done before. My first intent was to fill the website with information about my family, ancestors et al, but due to a few expressed "privacy" concerns, I chose to include only a small amount about my own family and relatives -- mostly information about those who were already deceased. Then I continued on with my research about Jewish history in a general way, thought of many ways that I could present my website, who my audience would ultimately be, what kind of online exhibitions people would like to see on my site, etc.

Eventually – at the Las Vegas IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) in the summer of 2005 I made my presence felt – I would constantly pull many of the conference attendees off to the side as they were heading down the hallways, hopping left and right between lectures, and I would show them what I had accomplished to date. I hoped that they would support me in my efforts, would visit my website and send me material that I could use on my site. After the conference, I began, little by little, to make it known that I was looking for folks to send me copies of old family photographs, stories, etc. To date I've had many hundreds of folks contribute material, which I'm grateful for. Then I decided that I wanted to make the museum a multimedia one, so I learned how to work with and edit audio and video clips, and thus my Museum became multimedia. And the rest is history, no pun intended.

One of the purposes of my Museum is to encourage folks to become active participants in the preservation of their own family’s history. I feel that the more people who knew about my site and who made a thorough “visit” to my Museum, would hopefully get as excited about the possibility of preserving their own family history as I have, would feel that excitement that I do and chose to get involved. Honoring and preserving the memory of one’s loved ones is a beautiful and blessed undertaking, and I feel that it is well worth one’s time pursuing. Imagine all the people who never had a chance to continue their own blood line, let alone work to preserve their own family history. This is our chance to leave a precious legacy… So there you have it in a nutshell.

You’ve asked how I knew that I could do all this? As I’ve told you, I like being creative – so that wasn’t the question. I didn't know, however, if I could create such a big and fancy website (which I learned "on the fly", without any previous training) until I did it, but I felt that I could create a "journal". You see, I was the editor of my optometry school newspaper for more than a year. Before my editorship the school “newspaper” was just two sides of one mimeographed sheet of paper. When I left the editorship a year later, it won an award, was self-sustaining (with paid advertising that I had begun to secure during my “reign” as editor), and on average it contained about sixteen pages of photos and articles, interviews, a master calendar, etc. So I knew I could do that, so hopefully by extension I could create a family journal, and then eventually a website, an even greater challenge that I could hopefully succeed in. It was and still is my wish that all the work and sacrifice I would put into all of this work would be appreciated by all who took the time to read my journals and/or “visit” my Museum.

2. With so much to offer, you've aptly described a visit to the Museum as a "personal journey". What are you hoping people experience and take away from that journey?

History is fascinating, isn’t it? When I was growing up and attending public school, much of the study of history was rote learning – memorize dates and names and events, taking tests, then moving on to the next subject. There was American History; there was World History. We didn't study history holistically or longitudinally, nor did we necessarily associate what was going on in the world with what our ancestors had gone through during a particular time or era. What made matters worse is that our parents – especially our immigrant grandparents -- didn’t talk about their early lives or experiences, perhaps because of the pain of the Holocaust, or simply the pain from being dislocated from the family that they once lived with. History wasn’t personal when I studied it in school. We really didn't study Jewish history -- yes, in Hebrew school a bit, but if I recall correctly it was mostly a study of Biblical stories -- certainly not about the Holocaust, or Jewish life in Europe, immigration, Jewish life in America, etc. There was a wide dichotomy between secular learning and Jewish learning.

I’ve digressed from your question. I always suggest to people that the best way to learn about their own family's journey over time is to learn about world history, and the best way to learn about world history is to learn about your family and their own experiences during that time. I believe that when one of my Museum "visitors" reads a personal story, or hears an audio clip of a story being told, or reads an article about a time in which their ancestors lived, hopefully they'll ask themselves, "Could my family members have experienced something like this?", or "Where was my family during this time?", or "How could world events have affected my own ancestors, personally and otherwise"? It certainly doesn’t have to be a story about one’s own family; we can empathize. There really are so many questions that one could ask ourselves, aren't there? I wish folks would want to learn more about their parents, grandparents et al, and to make connections with different times in the past so they could meld that knowledge to form a sort of nexus of knowledge from one generation to the next.

I have a similar theory of relativity as Einstein (though I am no Einstein!) To me, all time exists on the same plane, at least figuratively. Have you ever smelled a familiar smell, heard a particular sound, or returned to a certain place that evoked such strong imagery in your mind that you "almost" felt that you were "back there" again? Personally I have found that the more I learn about the past, both in general and about my own family, the more vivid the past seems to be to me, and it seems that the temporal distance between then and now seems shorter. I feel in a sense that I am once again back in the past (figuratively speaking and employing my active imagination, of course). After all, if the present is only a moment, everything else is the past, and the future is what's to come and hasn’t happened yet.

Another theory I have is one that I did not come up with, i.e. that people die twice: once when they physically pass away from this world, the other when they are no longer talked about. So the Museum of Family History gives folks the opportunity to keep the memory of their family members alive, to talk in some way to other family members about them and in this way at least to honor their memory. Not only that, but with what material I put online within my Museum to help them honor and preserve their family memories, folks can share it with others throughout the world, for free, 24/7.

A couple of advantages of an Internet museum is that it can be open all the time, and physical place is not a problem. One exhibition does not have to be taken down to make room for the next. You also needn’t be in a specific geographical location to pay the museum a visit. Also, such virtual museums are different from a “brick and mortar” museum. Most of us cannot honor our family by hanging a family photo on a museum wall, or by making a sound clip available of a family member, for all who visit a museum to hear. At the Museum of Family History, most everyone can take part and do this.

I hope that my Museum stimulates imaginations and allows my Museum "visitors" to travel back in their own past through their own personal journey, to become unceasingly inquisitive, with a constant thirst to learn more and to keep asking questions….
3. Wandering through the Museum, it is easy to get caught up in the many personal stories of struggle and triumphs brought to life with moving words and evocative sights and sounds. At the risk of asking a question as impossible as picking a favorite child, is there any one story or "exhibit" that particularly moves you or that especially captures the "spirit" of the Museum?

You’re right, that’s a tough one. I suppose my favorite stories are the ones that deal with the history of my own family, e.g. the story I wrote about my life growing up with my parents and maternal grandparents, in the fifties and sixties. I think it is our own personal stories that often affect us the most. The story I wrote, at its essence, is a loving tribute to my parents and grandparents as I remember them. It is a rare attempt on my part to express on paper -- with what eloquence I could muster -- my fondest memories of my youth. You can find this part of my “memoir” at http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/lia-memories-slasky-01.htm, if you’re interested.

How wonderful it is to be able to express in an eloquent way one’s unconditional love! If I can stimulate others to do the same, it would be very rewarding to me and hopefully to them too. So, yes, my grandparents are gone more than forty years now (and my father nearly thirty), but I have not forget them, and they are still talked about, at least by me.

4. In addition to your ambitious work on behalf of Jewish history, do you also research and document your own personal family history? So many of my readers are family historians with a passion for genealogical research. I'm sure they would love hearing about your own quest (such as a particularly gratifying breakthrough or discovery or something else learned along the way).

Alas, I haven't done much research in the last few years about my own family. I have done a good amount, but there are for me a number of missing links between the branches of my family tree, and since there are seemingly no records to clarify these connections and no one left to help me link one family member to another, solving this dilemma is quite difficult. I’ve dedicated most of my efforts to helping other people honor their own ancestors. Though I don’t do research for others, if I have data that would help them in some way solve their own mysteries, I send that data along to them pretty quickly.

Saying this, I must admit to you that I have mixed feelings about genealogy per se. Too many people (at least many of those I have met and communicated with over the years) strive to collect names and dates of relatives, but given the possibility or opportunity, they don't even interview their own living ancestors, nor do they feel that it's important to record their own personal story. Of course, there are many who strive to learn more than names and dates, but my frustrations are not with them.

As to one of my "quests" or "discoveries" that is especially gratifying is the amount I learned about my paternal grandparents, who passed away in Brooklyn before I was born. My paternal grandmother, Chaika (Ida), was really the breadwinner in the family – there were six children, four boys and two girls. Chaika did most of the work between her and her husband Michal (who davened most of the day). They had a small tailoring shop on Prospect Place in Brooklyn for a time, and Michal did a little tailoring, or so I was told. I also discovered that it was his job to cook herring and potatoes for the family for Friday night dinners. Another cousin whom I had never met before told me that she remembers that he used to collect matchbooks. I was told that their marriage was probably an arranged one, he being about fifteen years her senior. They had a baby girl in Poland, he came to the U. S. through Ellis Island – I guess to pave the way for Chaika and daughter to arrive at a later date – and so two years later in 1902 or so, they came to the U.S. the same way.

Ida, seems often to have been a “contradiction”, so to speak. For a period of time, she used to participate in "estate sales". At times she’d been standing on a table, my father still in her womb, conducting these sales. Years before this, she used to make money with "I Carry Clothes", where she used to go around NYC selling clothes that she carried around on her back. As I’ve said, she and my grandfather Michal had six children -- my father was the youngest of six children, and he was fifteen years junior to his oldest sister.

The Internet can be a wondrous means for discovering information, and can provide insights otherwise never to be obtained. For example, a couple of years ago, on a lark, I decided to search some old newspaper databases (the “Fulton History” website) under my grandmother's name "Ida Lasky" Lo and behold, I found an article about her in an April 1929 edition of the Utica (N. Y.) Daily Press newspaper. Utica yet! The article stated that she had a spot in a building on Elizabeth Street ("a block from the Bowery in the fringe of Chinatown") where there was a clothes exchange. The article sets the scene in part, "Within a dingy room, dealers sit along a wide bench. The collectors stream in with armfuls of worn garments for which they have bargained dearly at apartment doors from Coney Island to the Bronx....." (One of those people these collectors sold to was my grandmother, and she in turn would sell these used clothes, etc. to others.) The upper floors of this building were sublet to dealers who use them as sorting rooms....”

Under a subheading named "Prosperous Queen Ida" the article further states: "One woman, Ida Lasky, known to her intimates as 'Hiker' and to her colleagues as 'the Queen' is among New York's 2,000 collectors of old clothes.... and that when she goes out on Sunday in her mink coat, and her fine sedan, her six children -- three of them married -- are mighty proud of her....". Finally, the passage ends as such: "I bet you she's got $500 in that stocking plant(?) now," exclaimed Max (who owned a concession there), as she paused besides us. 'Ha,' she retorted, dodging away with a laugh and lifting her skirt high enough to display a wad of bills nestled against her kneecap. 'Five hundred and eighty dollars'.”

So this is precious, isn’t it?? She was quite a character. Here’s more… Chaika didn’t go to my father’s wedding because one of my uncles (by marriage), whom she was mad at, was going to attend the wedding, so she refused to go, even though Michal did. Also my aunt (one of my father’s sisters) told the story that Chaika would go into bars, see a “bum”, go to him and ask him, “Why are you a bum?” She’d buy him dinner and a suit and tell him or help him to get a job. “She was very charitable that way”. So as I’ve said, a “contradiction”…..

So there you have it. I never met my paternal grandparents, and look how much I found out by interviewing cousins, researching online newspaper archives, etc. The only thing I remember my father ever saying about my grandmother Chaika was that she slapped him across his head every time they walked together down the stairs from their apartment. Imagine knowing that little about one’s grandmother for most of your life, then learning all of this later in life! I suppose this goes to prove that you never know where you might find information about a family member. One just has to try as many possible sources of information as possible and hope for the best. Never assume that a relative knows nothing about your family history. A little luck is also a good thing.... I did know my maternal grandparents, and I was blessed enough to have known them for the first thirteen years of my life, before they passed away about a year apart from each other. They were totally different than my paternal grandparents, but they are another story….

5. In your introduction to the Museum you start with a wonderful quote by Dale Carnegie about the enthusiastic pursuit of an inspiring goal being a source of happiness. That's such apt wisdom for budding family historians (and us old hands alike!). It's also true that the long journey in pursuit of an ambitious and worthy goal invariably has its hurdles, setbacks, and sustained periods where it's natural to ask "am I getting anywhere?". It's clear from the results, that the Museum of Family History is a labor of love for you requiring a tremendous amount of time and effort. How do you sustain your passion and focus on such an all-encompassing project?

I must admit that my website work is at times exhausting and frustrating, but my dogged determination has seen me through some tough moments. I suppose that at times I am more motivated than at others. Sometimes I just have to keep pushing forward. It isn't easy, with few if any volunteers that step forward to volunteer, and without receiving any funding or contributions – not that I have always been asking for them. I just think it would be so much easier -- and I'd be able to grow the Museum by leaps and bounds -- if I could successful secure funding to pay others to do what I can't do, either because of I haven't the skill or the time. I certainly believe that what I have done is unique, and it wouldn't be even more unique and more marvelous if I had funding and/or volunteers to go beyond where I’ve gone to this point, though I'm not too hopeful that enough individuals, organizations or institutions know about my work, or if they do will believe enough in me and my work to the point of offering funding, etc.” Hope springs eternal”, or so they say.

Saying that, I push on because everything I create, each project and exhibition, has a certain meaning for me. For instance, for the past two years much of my time has been spent translating the Zalmen Zylbercweig opus, the "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre", from Yiddish to English (though I can't speak or really understand it for the most part when spoken to me). The "Lexicon" contains more than 2,800 individual biographies and histories of now-defunct theatre organizations. Such individual biographies include Boris Thomashefsky, Aaron Lebedeff, Paul Muni (who used to act in Yiddish theatre before becoming a screen actor), playwrights such as Jacob Gordin, I. L, Peretz, Sholem Asch and Sholem Aleichem. I have, mostly by myself, translated more than three-quarters of all the histories in this opus. Will it ever fully get translated? I don't know if I can finish it. Without the funding to pay translators, the job may very well remain unfinished. Zylbercweig's step-daughter has been very gracious in helping me with this "labor of love", and she has also given me dozens of reel-to-reel cassettes of her parent's old 1949-1969 Yiddish-language radio program, which was broadcast out of their home studio, which they built in the back of their Los Angeles home at their own expense. I had them converted to a digital format and periodically I add a new program to my "On the Air!" feature on my website. Just one of my many beloved projects. Of course it would be nice if folks would come forward to help me with my translations (as volunteers), but as you know, often times volunteers are often hard to come by.

I am also enamored with other special aspects of the Museum, e.g. my four “floor plans”, which indicate to the museum “visitor” where most everything would be located in the Museum (if it existed in real space). These rooms would be filled with all sorts of interesting material and exhibitions, and there would be building facades, e.g. of synagogues, schools, shops, etc., which would be embedded with links to texts, audio and video segments. There is even an outdoor music pavilion with a seating plan. Currently “performing” at the Museum of Family History is Al Jolson, who sings a few songs for the audience. I even have created two virtual restaurants with wonderful, mouth-watering, descriptive menus, for lunch, dessert and dinner. One of my restaurants is called “Gut Essen Delicatessen”. I have other menus too, and I’d like other folks to send me in menus for five- or six-course dinners, based on themes or region of origin. I have many more ideas of course.

6. I'm very intrigued by the idea of a virtual museum for organizing, displaying and sharing a family's history. I expect that some of my readers may be inspired by your creation to take their photos, videos, stories, research and other artifacts and bring them on-line to become curators of their own multimedia Museums of Family History. Do you have any advice for how to start?

There are online sites where you can use their templates to create your own website. How successful one is will depend on the time and energy one can put into it, how one can lay out material onto pages, on one's artistic sense, and how comfortable and savvy one is on a computer. Of course, I would like folks to consider putting material about their family on my own Museum website -- which would be easier on them and good for the Museum. They can always contact me at steve@museumoffamilyhistory.com if they have any questions about this. Making a website multimedia, i.e. filled with audio and video clips, is another matter, but it is doable. It just depends on whether one can dedicate the time and energy to learning how to do all of this.

7. You offer the hope that the Museum will appeal to children as well as adults and promote storytelling of family memories from grandparents and parents to their children. This is so important and something that I have a keen interest in promoting. What other advice would you offer to parents who wish to inspire their children to become more interested in family history?

Often times I hear from parents or grandparents that their children or grandchildren aren't interested in their own history, so they really don’t bring it up, though others do. I don' think this is a general rule, though it does happen. I think that children would like to form greater connections with their elders, and I think if their elders tell their stories in loving terms, then there is a better chance of creating more of an interest and curiosity in their progeny.

No matter what the age, people are attracted by beauty and positive energy. Every parent and grandparent who feels they know their children or grandchildren must find their own path to telling stories, though as I say, doing it with love is the key. It might not always work, but to me this a great way to build intergenerational communication. One good exercise is to interview a family member, preferably (with their permission) recording the interview with a digital recorder, and then transcribing it for posterity.

There is an art to conducting such interviews, and there are websites that make some good suggestions on how to do so, i.e. how to interview and conduct "oral history". The American Indians used to sit around the campfire, and the elders used to pass down the story of the tribe this way. So why can we Jews sit around the table during holidays such as Pesach and do the same?

8. Happily, the Museum which already consists of thousand of images from the past, is a growing collection. What's ahead? Can you share any upcoming exhibits or plans you may have for the future of the Museum?

Oh, I have so many plans (if only I had the time, the volunteers and some money) – both a curse and a blessing of an active imagination. It kills me, though, that I haven’t been able to go forward in the way that I had hoped, having such a vision of a future Museum of Family History that would stand out as a model of what imagination, creativity and love of heritage can do if only I had the means.

I haven't mentioned to you that I am currently the First Vice-President and Cemetery Liaison for the United Zembrover Society (a landsmanshaft, or mutual aid society, made up today mostly of descendants of those who came from Zambrow, Poland). We are almost finished paying a professional translator to fully translate our Yizkor Book (Book of Remembrance).We pay our translator section by section, and after each section is sent to our Board, and to me, it is proofed, the book photos are inserted into the body of the translation, and then I place the translation on my website. Interesting too is the fact that I am working with people (non-Jews) in Zambrow to have the Yizkor Book translated from English to Polish, and once done it will also hopefully appear on my site in Polish. What a great way to inform non-Jews from the town about the history of the Jews who once lived and thrived there. So much of the history of many towns in Europe was made by Jews, but knowledge of this history was lost due to the Holocaust and destruction of the Jewish population. It is as if a large chunk of their own town’s history is missing. And I think many towns have an interest in learning about this history, especially the young people in these towns, so this is all a good thing in my opinion and is filled with good intentions. Of course, such good intentions must be followed up by action.

I am also hoping to create a three-dimensional map of the town and link translated excerpts from the Yizkor Book with locations on the town map. This idea excites me and offers up the possibility of creating a template for doing this for other locations throughout the world where Jews (and others) once lived.

I also hope to transform my Museum of Family History website to a three-dimension format, but that is for another time. Nothing like this has ever been done before, but this is a case where I haven't the skills to do this and would need funding to pay someone who knows how to do this. As I've said, "Hope springs eternal".
Best,

Steven Lasky

www.museumoffamilyhistory.com  
blog: http://museumoffamilyhistory.blogspot.com
steve@museumoffamilyhistory.com



Monday, March 4, 2013

The Hermann Pressman Diary: From Berlin to Antwerp and the Bronx: A Life in Pre-War Europe...

In the decade of the 1930s, the years that led to the Holocaust, many Jewish families fled Nazi-led Germany for other lands. One such family was that of Zysia and Hinda Pressman , and their two children Hermann and Sonia. They had originally come from Poland, but they had moved to Berlin where Zysia had a thriving clothing business.
When Hitler came to power, son Hermann made the decision to leave Berlin, and in the Spring of 1933 he immigrated to Antwerp, Belgium. It was not easy, but he convinced his parents to do the same, and they and Sonia joined him.
So they began their lives in Antwerp, though it was not easy -- Zysia could neither find success in setting up a new business, nor could he gain residence permits for he and his family. Finally, the family decided to seek a better life with more opportunities, and they decided to immigrate to the United States in April 1934, traveling on a Red Star Line ship for New York, where they began their new life.
Hermann's diary tells of his day-to-day activities in Berlin, then Antwerp, and finally as a resident of the United States (the Bronx). His diary tells of his friends and their times together, his relationship with other members of his family, his attempts to gain a residence permit.  At times he also gives his impressions of the tragedy that was occurring in Nazi Germany during this time. 
He then writes about his life in the Bronx, about the family clothing business, the courtship of his future wife and more.
You can visit the exhibition here.
 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Food for Thought: Preserving Your Family Photos, Documents Before the Next Disaster

The recent hurricane here on the East Coast and subsequent wind and water damage that occurred to tens of thousands of homes and businesses has compelled me to write to you with a worthwhile suggestion, as well as some food for thought.

As I have thousands of your precious family photographs already on my museum website, I am constantly reminded of the value of the material possessions that help us preserve and recall our own family’s history.

I know that many of us do not “back up” or photos or documents, as we generally do not anticipate natural (and some unnatural) events affecting us so severely, a tragedy that may occur to one’s property, not only from wind and flooding, but from disasters such as fire, earthquakes (or bombs, G-d forbid).

Many received extensive damage to their homes, especially their ground floors and basements. One can only try to imagine all that was lost, and the emotional impact it had on those who suffered because of it. I come to you here as one who strives to help you preserve your own family history, who has a vast, genealogical interest in his own family history, with a wish that you – perhaps as the fulfillment of a resolution for the New Year – make a full effort in the coming year to preserve and protect your own family legacy.

Can you imagine having all your precious family photographs, etc. destroyed, with absolutely no hope of recovering them? Surely we care more about our own personal well-being and that of our family members, our home itself, etc., but I am talking here solely about photographs and documents, and perhaps other material, family “mementos”.

It is my suggestion that each of us find some way of saving our precious photographs in at least a secondary location, e.g. on an external hard drive, thumbnail drive, CD, etc. Or one can save them to one’s computer, put them online to a photo-sharing program, e.g. with Flickr, or on other such websites.


One must remember, however, that only saving one’s photos to the same relative location is not a good idea, as your precious family photos, etc. can also be destroyed along with your photo backup, e.g. if your house’s first floor floods, and that is where you keep your family albums, as well as your computer who you may back up your files. So perhaps saving your photos (and documents too, let’s not forget) to an outside location (perhaps in a different part of the country) is probably the best bet, whether one backs them up online or in some other physical location.

I could go on, but I think I made my point. Many of us care very much about our family history and the preservation of physical remembrances, etc., so we should make this a priority to back up our precious photos and documents to a safe place. We don’t want to lose valuable family “heirlooms”, nor have to go back and do all our family research over again.


A similar suggestion can also be made with regards to preserving one’s own personal history, either by writing it down or recording it for posterity, before one’s memories fade or worse. Here time is the enemy, not any natural disaster. But that’s for another discussion….

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

New Film: "Stories of the Selfhelp Home"

In the late 1930s, following the ferocious anti-Jewish violence of Kristallnacht, a determined group of young German Jews left behind everything that was dear and familiar and immigrated to Chicago. Here, these refugees set out to create a supportive community for themselves and others fleeing Nazi persecution, eventually establishing the Selfhelp Home for the oldest among them.

REFUGE is a one-hour documentary that reaches back more than seventy years to give a voice to its last generation of victims of Nazi persecution and tell the story of this singular community that has provided a safe haven to more than one thousand Central European Jewish refugees and survivors. REFUGE weaves together historical narrative, archival footage and deeply personal testimony to explore the lives of six Chicagoans against the context of the Nazi cataclysm and how a small group of them came together to care for their own. The film illuminates the lost world of Central European Jewry prior to World War II--middle class, educated, cultured--and the remarkable courage, resilience and character of its final generation at Selfhelp.

In their own words, these refugees and survivors, now in their late eighties and above, speak vividly of loss of family and of place, of separations, and of decisions that meant the difference between life and death. They describe the myriad paths to survival: fleeing to the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, hiding in the French countryside, being taken in by English families as part of the Kindertransport, and as slave laborers in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. And of those, who perished—husbands, parents, siblings, children. Yet, theirs are also stories of renewal, of finding love and creating new families, and of starting again in a new land.

The film moves back and forth between these stories and examines how the trajectories of their lives came together at the end at Selfhelp. And it reaches into the near future, when the last eyewitnesses to the Holocaust, those who have animated Selfhelp and given it its unique mission and meaning, will be gone. 
 
You can view the film preview here.
You can visit the Museum's other thirty-two film clips by visiting its Screening Room.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Landjuden of Euskirchen: The Sibilla Schneider Photographic Collection

Sibilla Schneider was a descendant of the Juelich family that lived in and around the small town of Euskirchen, Germany, which is located about sixty kilometres from the town of Juelich. She and her family  belonged to the social group of landjuden, or “country Jews”, which flourished throughout Europe from the Alsace to Slovakia until their lifestyle disappeared in the Shoah. In this online exhibition, you can view nearly three dozen fine (mostly studio) photographs of the Schneider-Juelich-Heumann families from Euskirchen, and learn a bit about their family history.

To view the exhibition, please click here.   

Lost Treasures: The Wooden Synagogues of Eastern Europe

In this new online exhibition, you can view many linocuts created by artist Bill Farran of New York, each a representation of a wooden synagogue that once stood in Eastern Europe. A very brief history of each synagogue is included.

These synagogues stood in such towns as Chodorow, Gombin, Grodno, Gwozdziec, Kielmy, Koskie, Kornik, Kosow Lacki, Lackorona, Olkieniki, Ozery, Piaski, Pohrebyszcze, Przedborz, Sniadowo, Suchowola, Szawlany, Warka, Wolpe, Wysokie Mazowieckie, Yarchev and Zabludow.

You can visit this exhibition by clicking here.

Monday, October 8, 2012

"We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust", from the Museum's "Yiddish Vinkl" Bookstore

"Ellen Cassedy set off into the Jewish heartland of Lithuania to study Yiddish and connect with her Jewish forebears. Then her uncle, a Holocaust survivor, pulled a worn slip of paper from his pocket. “Read this,” he said.

When she did, she learned something she had never suspected, and what had begun as a personal quest expanded into a larger exploration of memory and moral dilemmas in a nation scarred by genocide. Cassedy’s deeply felt account offers important insights – and hope."


This new book by author Ellen Cassedy is the seventh book featured in the Museum of Family History's "Yiddish Vinkl" Bookstore. Though, like the Museum, the Bookstore is virtual, i.e. it exists solely on the Internet, it tries to spread the word to others of books that it feels worthwhile.
By clicking
here, you may see its book cover, watch a YouTube video about the book, and read an excerpt from the book.

Ellen gave a talk recently to those in attendance at the Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island and gave an interesting talk about her new book.

The Museum hopes you will visit its Yiddish Vinkl Bookstore, and also encourages you to read about the other books featured.

Please note that the Museum (or this blog) have no financial interest in any of these books.


Regards,
Steve Lasky
Founder and Director
Museum of Family History

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Names Changed: My Grandfather Harry Ness

I will share with you one of my own interesting family stories, which will illustrate to you how the path to discovering the history of one's family name can be convoluted and the process daunting.

My beloved maternal grandfather was born Avraham Chone Gniazdowicz. He was born in or about Sniadowo, Poland (there was an adjacent shtetl named Gniazdowo, which presumably is how his family came by their surname). He immigrated to the U. S. with a cousin in 1906, though not as a Gniazdowicz, but as an Oschensky. This was the family name of his cousin Shloime (Sam), with whom he immigrated with (note that his cousin at some time after arriving in the U.S. changed his surname too -- from Oschensky to Ocean).

Presumably grandfather (as a fifteen-year-old) changed his surname while still living in Poland in order to avoid the draft, though perhaps there were other reasons, e.g. the lack of a birth certificate. Perhaps he took the surname of his cousin's family and used the birth certificate of a male in the Oschensky family who had previously died, or because they had no need of it, for whatever reason. One can only guess....

I imagine the reasons for why someone changed their name (or had their name changed) often were not discussed openly within one's family, for whatever reason. Perhaps some were afraid that if the reason for the name change was discussed, it might tarnish their imagine. Maybe worse yet they feared, if discovered by the "wrong people", they might be deported back to the "old country". Or perhaps the name was changed so long ago, it was "in the past" so to speak. To talk about such things might bring more to their consciousness the family they sadly left behind, family events they might not want to talk about, etc.

Let's return to my grandfather's situation. He came over to the U.S. with a different family name, though when he arrived in the U.S. (met by his cousin's father, who had previously immigrated and met yet other relatives on their arrival at Ellis Island), he changed his name back to Gniazdowicz, then quickly to a shortened version of this hard-to-pronounce surname -- now he was a Ness (No relation to Elliot).

Not only this, but on the 1915 New York City census (while living on Monroe Street on the Lower East Side, at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge), he is listed as "Abe" Ness (from Avraham), though this is the only time I've seen this given name of "Abe" used for him, as he subsequently called himself "Harry" (from Chone) in all other documentation. He was known as "Harry" as far as I know till the end of his days. He, my grandmother and uncle moved to Brooklyn in 1918.

So I knew my maternal grandfather as "Harry Ness", who had, by the way, another immigrant cousin who he was close to, who also lived in Brooklyn, also named Harry Ness (I still don't know the common ancestor between them), though his Yiddish given name was Chone Yankel.

This is another example of how family names evolved. Hopefully you know about your ancestors at least as much as I know about my maternal grandfather.

It can be then, for the genealogist, a challenge to gain information on a subject due to all the possibilities relating to how one's family name might have been changed (and sometimes not just once). It goes far beyond the question of whether a person's name was changed at Ellis Island, or at some other place, at some other time.

As they say, "It ain't easy"....

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Did Our Family's Name Change?

One need only employ one's imagination to come up with a good number of possible reasons why a Jewish immigrant might have changed their name on arrival in another country, for example, the United States of America.

First, one must consider whether the change was by choice or by accident. We must also ask if the change was made by the person themselves or by someone else.

If by accident, perhaps a surname (or given name) was read incorrectly and rewritten a different way. Perhaps there was a typo which permanently changed one's name. One can easily misread another's handwriting. For instance, you can see this simply by looking up some family names in the newly online 1940 Federal Census, and see how those who transcribed the names written on the census to their own database (in this case, Ancestry.com) made data input errors. Why couldn't I find my maternal grandparents by using their newly created search engine, when I could find it through Steve Morse's search engine using my grandparents' home address in 1940 and finding the enumeration district? Since one basically must have the correct spelling to a family name to find one's family with Ancestry.com, I could not find my "Ness" family because it was listed on Ancestry.com's database as "Thess". On the census, the capital "N" was handwritten a bit "fancy", and the "N" appeared to the data entry person as a "Th". I could find the name using "Thess" only because I first found the pertinent census page by first finding it using Steve Morse' s search engine, i.e. by knowing my grandparents' address and finding it via the ED. I was fortunate in this way; others won't be so lucky. One can only imagine how a handwritten name might have been misread by these data entry folks and go from there. Perhaps it might be a good exercise to simply examine a number of random census pages and try to imagine how one might misread some of the names.

On the other hand, if an immigrant's surname was changed by choice, what were the possible reasons for such a change? Perhaps the reason might have been an economic one, e.g. they thought that they would be able to make a better living if their surname was this or that. Perhaps a name was changed to make it sound less Jewish and be less open to the prejudices of a potential employer, etc. Years ago being Jewish, even in America, could be a detriment in finding a good job, not to mention finding entrance into certain universities, organizations, etc. Sometimes a man decided to take the surname of his wife if his wife's family was well-known. Sometimes they took the name of the family who sponsored them, who brought them over from the "old country".

Socially, an immigrant often wanted to assimilate more easily into American society, so they either shortened their name or changed it, more or less, to make it more "acceptable". Phonically a foreign-sounding surname was often unappealing and difficult for those who were unfamiliar with such names to pronounce (different alphabet), so the name was "simplified", either by changing the spelling or simply by shortening (or lengthening) the name or changing it entirely.

There are many other possibilities, however remote. Consider my Olshanetski (distant) relatives from Poland. There were a great many children in that clan who were named after a few deceased elders. How many Avraham Olshanetski's can there be? Wouldn't it be confusing if two males had the same name, each one born to sons or daughters of descendants of these deceased elders? So each family varied the spelling of their surname when they arrived in America. Olshanetsky in one instance maintained the same spelling. Other branches of the family became Olshin (also Olshen). Even with double given names, the family decided that their family surname should be shortened, and they tweaked their spelling to distinguish between two (at least) of the same sex, not to mention to distinguish between genealogical branches of the family.

Of course there were many who just didn't like their name, for whatever reason and changed it. Back then, it was easier to "officially" call yourself "Joe Smith" instead of Yosele Shmulewicz.

Here's an exercise for you. Just imagine that you were an immigrant back then, arriving in America at the back end of the nineteenth or the beginning of the twentieth century. Think about what your name "could" have been back in the old country, using that country's alphabet. Consider how you might have been able to change your surname to make it more "acceptable" to others.

No use wondering whether your family had its surname changed at Ellis Island or at the point of embarkation; whether the spelling was altered when a family member decided to apply for a job, or for membership in some social or political organization. Our immigrant ancestors wanted a better life for themselves and their families, and most of them did what they had to do to blend in and "get along". Of course, many chose to keep their birth surname, no matter how it sounded or was spelled, or how it might be perceived by others. Many were proud of their surnames or indifferent to how it was perceived by others.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

List of New York City Synagogues Now Updated!

The Museum's list of mostly defunct synagogues that once stood in Manhattan proper has been widely updated. It now includes information on synagogues from fifteen city directories, ranging from 1869 to 1933. Hopefully more will be added in the future.

The synagogue list is being presented to you in the form of an address directory, i.e. the listing is sorted first by building address, and when available, the names of the synagogue president, the rabbi, cantor and sexton. You can find this updated list by clicking here.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Synagogues of New York City Update

Within the next few weeks the Museum of Family History's Education and Research Center will be updating its Manhattan webpage for its "Synagogues of New York City" exhibition. I now have copies of the synagogue listings from thirteen more Manhattan City directories. This will be a great addition to the current page which only represents a portion of all the synagogues that once existed on the island of Manhattan.


The synagogues to be added are listed in the directories starting in 1869 and go to 1933-4.

What's helpful on these lists -- besides the synagogue name and its address at the time the directory was printed-- is that often times the rabbi, president, reader and sexton of the synagogue are listed.

I have amended the way I present this particular list, so that it is an "address directory", so to speak, so it will be most helpful if you knew at least the street on which the synagogue once stood. Of course, you can always do a search on the page for any keyword you choose.

I will notify those of you who follow my blog once the webpage is updated, though as I've said, it might take a few weeks or so. To see the current lists of New York City synagogues, click here.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"To Honor and Preserve: The Memories of Leo and Sylvia Dashefsky"

This exhibition is presented to you by the Museum through the cooperation of Batya Dashefsky, their daughter. She has created a lovely twenty-three minute slide show about her parents, her family et al. I recommend you visit this exhibition and watch her presentation (with music and narration) and think about how you might use your own unique creativity to honor your own family. This presentation spans many decades, from life in Erope to immigration, to immigrant Jewish life in America in the 1920s, Brownsville, Palestine, Syracuse, New York and Philadelphia.Mention is made of such organizations as Pioneer Women, Shomer Hatzair, the Labor Zionist Movement et al. Letters of correspondence are read, e.g. from pre-war Bialystok. Mention is also made of Grodno, Rezina in Bessarabia and Narewka, Poland.Also, Batya's father Leo dedicated his retirement to translating original Yiddish-language poetry and thus within the Museum' Yiddish Vinkl, if you have a mind to, you can read the English translations of such Yiddish poets and writers as Sholem Aleichem, Mordechai Gebirtig, Itzhak Katzenelson, H. Leivick, J. L. Peretz, Avraham Reisen and Yehoash.The exhibition begins here. This exhibition is ever-evolving; as the Museum receives more interesting, creative works of those who have honored their ancestors, they too will be added to this growing exhibition.

Elaine Rosenberg Miller has also written a small piece about her father's aunt which is included within the "To Honor and Preserve" exhibition. You can find it here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Updated list of New York City Synagogues

The Museum's list of synagogues once found within the borough of Manhattan, New York, has now been updated with an additional one hundred and seventy new entries. With this healthy number of additions, the list now includes the names of more than eight-hundred Manhattan synagogues.


This new synagogue information comes from Trow's New York City 1905-6 city directory, and this, in addition to the prior list (taken from another source, date unknown, but later than 1905-6), makes for a nice compilation of synagogue names and addresses.


The city directory from 1905-6 lists, from time to time, the names of the synagogue president, rabbi, sexton and the occasional cantor.


Most of the synagogues added to this list once stood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.


When it can be discerned, the town association of a synagogue is listed too, as well as its street address.


To visit the page of Manhattan synagogue names, please click here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where Once There Were Jews: Lapy, Poland

The story of Łapy native Sol Rubenstein begins: "The one-story brick house in which I was born on March 2, 1916 stood on the main street in Łapy, Poland, twenty-five kilometers south of the city of Bialystok. Łapy, a small town called in Yiddish "shtetl," was a major railroad crossing for the Warsaw-Vilna line. It had approximately one hundred Jewish families and three-thousand gentile families in 1939. The main industry was government railroad repair shops that employed about 4,000 gentile people. The Jewish population was discriminated against and denied the opportunity to work at the railroad shops. Two of the major streets were Main Street and Railroad Street. The few side streets were no more than alleys inhabited mostly by Jewish residents. Most of the gentiles lived at the outskirts of town in small villages. Each family had a house with two or three acres of land to plant grains, potatoes, vegetables and to raise a few livestock and poultry. Most of the Jewish people were merchants and tradesmen. Each family had the front part of their home as a place of business and the back room as their living quarters. My entire family consisted of uncles, aunts, great-uncles, great-aunts, and their children branched out into ten separate and independent families. Each family had their own home and retail business on Main Street. Their businesses dealt with the farmers and railroad employees...."


Continue to read Sol's story as well as see many photographs of Łapy taken there both before and during the war when the Germans occupied the town. You can find the exhibition "Where Once There Were Jews: Lapy, Poland" by clicking here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Kristallnacht and the Destruction of the Polish Jews, 1939-43

A powerful film of nearly thirty-four minutes about the time of Kristallnacht and later, between 1928-43 in Poland, when destruction rained down upon the Jewish people.

In this film you will see a combination of archival film and roving scans of still photographs that give one a jarring view of this period.

Included within this film one can see pictures of many Polish synagogues, both interior and exterior; those synagogues that were still relatively intact before their destruction, and those who were destroyed or were in the process of being razed to the ground.

Tomek lists the following towns and their synagogues that are represented in his film. I can't vouch for the fact that each are represented, but it is most likely:
Lodź, Lodz-Litzmanstadt, Białystok, Zambrów, Wieruszów, Markuszów, Koło, Bychów, Biłgoraj, Lubaczów, Lubieszów, Tarnów, Luboml, Biała Podlaska, Jordanów, Częstochowa, Przemyśl, Żółkiew, Grajewo, Grodno, Mława, Równo, Łęczyca, Łaszczów,Tomaszów Lubelski,Knysyn, Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Jonawa, Połock and Czyżew. The link to this film can be found at the very top of the Tomek Wisniewski list.

Be sure to stick around until the very end of the film past the scrolling Polish-language text as the English version of the text will follow.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

To Honor and Preserve: The Story of Irene Weinberg

This is a multi-faceted ongoing exhibition about the many ways we as individuals, i.e. those of us who are interested in preserving the memory of our families, go about it. The first entry in this exhibition to be presented comes from Rabbi Norbert Weinberg. His mother Irene Weinberg was born in Lemberg (Lwow/L'viv) in Galicia.

“Megillat Esther: The Story of Esther” is the account of Irene Weinberg’s survival as an Aryan Pole during the Shoah, compiled by her son, Rabbi Norbert Weinberg and is based on original documents and taped and video testimony.

Esther, the Hebrew name of Irene, plays on the theme of “ Esther”, referring to the Hebrew word for “Hidden”, as both the original Esther of the first Megillah and this modern Esther saved themselves and others by living as a non-Jew under the nose of the oppressors and murderers.

It is part of the family history of Rabbi Dr. Wilhelm Weinberg and Irene Weinberg that explores the themes underlying the story of the Jewish people and the courage of the spirit that has enabled this people to survive over the millennia. The author’s father, Rabbi Dr. Wilhelm Weinberg, survived imprisonment in Berlin, capture in Czechoslovakia, and Soviet refuge, to return to lead the Surviving Remnant as the first Chief Rabbi of Hesse (Frankfurt), Germany, after the Shoah.

You can find Irene Weinberg's story here. Many of his family photos were originally posted on the website of the Galicia Jewish Museum of Krakow. He also has a blog which he uses to update those interested on his ongoing research into the the history of the Jewish people in Europe in the twentieth century. His blog can be found here.

Look for more entries within this exhibition, "To Honor and Preserve", in the coming months. More such dedications to family members are always welcome.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The March of Time (1937): Poland and War

I am currently watching one of the "March of Time" thirty-minute films (Volume 3, Number 11), this one from 11 Jun 1937, and one part of it is entitled "Poland and War."

In one scene (the segment is less than six mintues long) the film's narrator is talking about the increasing attacks on the Jews of Europe, and they show a number of certificates that I believe are hanging on an office wall in some European town or city, and there are names of Jews printed on these certificates.

I can't say from what city/town these certificates hung--perhaps Danzig, or Warsaw, Galicia, Lithuania, or a town in the Bialystok region, I can't tell from the newsreel footage--but I would be remiss if I didn't pass these names on to you. I can't really read what else is printed on these
certificates, but can tell you the names as they are the largest printing on said certificates.

So then here are the names:

Estera Adlermanowna
Mendla Apfel
Abraham Schwannanfeld
Abraham Selig Rappaport
Wolf Mamber (the second 'm' and 'b' are a bit suspect)
Sarah z Tuchmanow Krebsowa
Leib Schwarz
Gedale Loffler

I'll keep my eyes open for more names, etc. One never knows where one may find a name of interest.

If you'd like to see a complete list of segments of all the "March of Time" films, click here.
To view links to complete "March of Time" segments, including the one mentioned here, click here. To do this, you'll be asked by the website to create a user name and password.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Jewish Folk Style in the Wooden Wall Paintings of Eastern Europe

A new online exhibition entitled "The Jewish Folk Style in the Wooden Wall Paintings of Eastern Europe" is now available for viewing at the Museum of Family History. This exhibition should be of interest to those of you who are interested in art history, or simply the old wooden synagogues that once existed aplenty in Europe, particularly in the Ukraine.

This exhibition is replete with many black and white and color photographs, including a number of the exteriors of some wooden synagogues and more of the interior wall paintings of others. This exhibition comes to you courtesy of an associate professor of art history in Kharkov, Ukraine. Professor Kotlyar gives interesting insights into the paintings themselves, as only an art historian can.

Most of the photos of wall paintings presented are of synagogues associated with the Ukraine. They represent such towns as (in alphabetical order): Drogobych, Gorodok, Gvozdetz, Khodrov, Kopys, Mikhalpol, Moghilev on the Dnieper, Norinsk, Novomirgorod, Smotrich, Talne, Targoritza, Unterlimpurg and Yaryshev.

The exhibition may be found by clicking here. More exhibitions are always welcome from those on the outside who are willing to contribute them for display at the Museum. Please contact the Museum if you're willing to put together an exhibition for online display.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" Museum Transliteration Project Complete

The Museum has now completed the transliteration from Yiddish to English of all names listed within the six volumes of Zalmen Zylbercweig's "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

On this database is included the following information (all when available):

Surname, given name, alterate names, date of birth, date of death, and town and country of birth (usually the name of the town at the time they were born--most were born in the second half of the nineteenth century or first decade of the twentieth).

Also listed is the page on which each name appears in these six volumes, not only the original book page number, but also the page number on the pdf version that's online--this is a very helpful finding aid when trying to locate a specific page. In addition, there are also thirty Yiddish theatre organizations included within this master list.

YIVO orthographic (name spelling) standards have been used most often in compiling this database, though this was a daunting task.

There are more than 2,700 individual names listed within this master list. The most often represented town/city of individual births is not unexpectedly Warszawa; the number is 213, more than double the number of the second most frequent, Lodz; then farther down the list but close behind comes Odessa, Lemberg, Vilna and Iasi.

These six volumes of the Lexicon were published in either New York City, Warsaw or Mexico City between 1931 and 1969. The entire six volumes are in Yiddish, so while transliterating the names was a very time-consuming task, it was doable even for a non-Yiddish speaker.

There is much good information biographically for most of those individuals listed. It is hoped that fluent Yiddish speakers will come forth and volunteer to translate some of these passages into English. If you'd like to volunteer to translate--perhaps you have a town of interest and would like to add a translated biography to your own town webpage--please contact the Museum.

It should be noted that not all Yiddish actors and actresses that ever lived are included within these six volumes, but there is more than enough names and information about individuals and organizations and theatre groups to maintain one's interest, assuming one's interest lies in the Yiddish theatre.

Within these six volumes, there are also many photos of scenes of plays, of actors in their roles and many illustrations.

Friday, January 7, 2011

"Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" Museum Transliteration Project

The Museum is currently in the midst of a small project to transliterate (in this case exchange the Yiddish/Hebrew letters listed for the English) Zalmen Zylbercweig's six-volume "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre."

This is a bit of an undertaking as these volumes are rather large, but the project is at least halfway done. The names listed in volumes 3, 4 and 5 have been transliterated to date, and Volume 1 will be completed shortly.

Even though the transliterated names and associated page numbers for Volume 5 can be found on JewishGen by clicking here, the Museum's name listings are more complete. The Museum has corrected many errors and omissions that were found in the Volume 5 listing.

Also the Museum's own listings for each of the volumes, not only have surnames, given names and "alternate names" been included, but when listed, the individual's date of birth and death are given, as well as the town/city and country of their birth. The Museum has tried to use the YIVO orthographic standards in the spellings of the names, though there are no doubt errors here too.

You can now find Zylbercweig's six volumes online (for free) by clicking here. Simply search for these volumes by using the words "Leksikon fun Yidishn teater".

Also, not only are the actual page numbers listed for each entry as in the original Yiddish-language volume, but the pdf page number has been added too, so all you have to do is enter that page number where the individual's name (and most often photos) appears.

It might be interesting for those of you who have familial ties with European countries and towns to see what person associated with the Yiddish theatre in some way came from that town or city. It should be to no one's surprise that the towns/cities that are most associated with these many names are Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna and Lemberg(L'viv).

The Museum hopes to complete this project within the next two or three weeks. If you need any lookups, please let the Museum know by e-mail. Of course you might want to wait till the Museum is finished with all six volumes. I understand that Volume 7 has never been published, and that parts of it sit in various repositories, so it is unlikely that the Museum be able to transliterate the names in that volume unless the institution/person that has it makes it available.

The Museum is hoping to put this information, once completed, on a free, online searchable database.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The National Archives in New York City is Moving!

According to the National Archives website:

The National Archives at New York City is pleased to announce that within the next two years we will move our office to the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green in New York City. Our new home will be located in the same building as the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. The building is currently known as the Custom House building, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Beaux Arts style and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We have just started the design phase of for our new space. After extensive renovation, our new space will be ready in the late fall of 2011. We will announce the exact dates of the move as soon as possible.

At One Bowling Green our patrons will continue to receive the same great service they have come to expect from the experienced National Archives staff. We will continue to provide access to all of our holdings. An increase in our public and outreach programs, and our new proximity to other important New York cultural institutions including the Museum of the American Indian and Ellis Island, will enable us to reach a wider audience.

At One Bowling Green we will:

Occupy space on the 3rd and 4th floor of this historic building.


Store our most used original records and most popular microfilm holdings.


Provide access to all of our records (including records stored offsite).


Continue to provide certified copies of National Archives holdings.


Increase the number of public access computers so that patrons can access online resources.


Continue to make available online subscription services including Ancestry, Footnote, Heritage Quest, ProQuest, free of charge.


Provide additional outreach programs to increase awareness of National Archives resources in New York, the Northeast Region, and nationwide.

We are moving for several reasons. Our new location will provide state-of-the-art storage facilities for our original records. We must provide a secure preservation environment so that current and future generations of researchers can use the holdings. The new location will also be more patron friendly, and will allow greater accessibility to our programs and services. It is a historic building fit to house the holdings of the National Archives.

It will be necessary to close and/or limit some services when we make the physical move. We will do everything possible to keep any disruption in service at a minimum.

At One Bowling Green we will have more space than we currently do to accommodate researchers, staff, volunteers, teachers, and students. We are just beginning the design phase. Our space at One Bowling Green will have the same functions as our current space including a research room, computer search room, and a reference library.

If you would like to read the full amount of information about the move, as well as the "frequently asked questions," please click here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Synagogues of Egypt

For those of you who would like to see a small number of black and white photographs of three Cairo synagogues and one in Alexandria, Egypt, you may now do so within one of the Museum's synagogue exhibitions.

The synagogues in question are the Eliyahu HaNavi synagogue in Alexandria; the Haim Cappoussi Synagogue, the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the Sha'ar Hashamayim Synagogoue in Cairo. Also featured with these photos is a photo of a synagogue in Mozambique.

Within the Museum of Family History's Synagogue photo collection you may see many photographs of synagogues, both past and present, from Europe, Asia and Africa.
If you have other synagogue photographs from outside North America and would like to send them to the Museum for inclusion, please send them to postmaster@museumoffamilyhistory.com .

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Displaced Persons Camps Post-World War II

The Museum is now preparing many new online exhibitions for the coming year. The topic of one of these exhibitions will be many of the D.P. (Displaced Persons) camps that sprouted in Europe after the end of World War II, which housed thousands of refugees, survivors of the Holocaust.

The Museum wishes all who are fans and followers of the Museum to consider contributing material to any of the forthcoming exhibitions (watch for the announcement of new 2011 exhibitions coming soon.)

If you have any family photos that were taken in any of the D.P. camps, as well as any written accounts of life there or audio or video interviews of same, please consider sending copies to the Museum for inclusion in this forthcoming exhibition.

Already the Museum has filled one "wall" of this exhibition room with nearly forty photographs taken from the memorial album produced for the D.P. camp in Hof, Germany. As the Museum of Family History is a virtual (Internet-only) Museum, the walls will always have room for material that may be of interest to other Museum "visitors."

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, Steven Lasky, at steve@museumoffamilyhistory.com .