Saturday, February 27, 2010

Memoirs of a Lida Partisan and the Bielski Unit

The original Hebrew language memoir of Chaim Basist of Lida, Belarus (once part of Poland), has now been translated into English and is available online for the first time at the Museum of Family History.

"The Story of the House of Plotnik-Monco-Basist" is a gripping tale in detail of family genealogy in Lida, Belarus and its environs and the Holocaust. Chaim Basist's story includes the hiding in the forests with the Bielski partisans of he and his family, and once surviving finding a permanent home in the new land of Israel.

The full English translation, as well as the original Hebrew version, can be found within the Museum's exhibition "Walk in my Shoes: Collected Memories of the Holocaust." The memoir can be found at A link can be found there for the Hebrew version.

Friday, February 26, 2010

New Video Clips for Four Jewish Documentaries

The Museum of Family History has recently introduced four new film clips to its Screening Room:

--The Warsaw Ghetto 1940-1943 is documentary project that features three films. The main film is 912 Days of the Warsaw Ghetto (37 min.), and the two short ones are Children in the Ghetto and Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. These films were created for the Jewish Historical Institute as part of its permanent exhibit on the fate of Warsaw's Jews during the period from 1939 to 1945. They present the daily lives and deaths of those imprisoned in the ghetto, their hopes and efforts to survive, their armed resistance and struggle, and finally their total extermination. Unique Polish and German archival materials were used in the preparation of these films.

To see the film preview, simply use the link for film no. 24 that can be found within the main Screening Room page by clicking here.

--Paint What You Remember: Mayer Kirshenblatt left Poland for Canada in 1934. Fifty-six years later, at age seventy-three Mayer began to paint his childhood memories of prewar life in Opatów. Before Second World War Opatów (or Apt in Yiddish) had ten thousand inhabitants, more than half of them Jewish. Nowadays, little is remembered of the shtetl character of the town and of its Jewish population wiped out entirely by the Holocaust.

In this film the audience is taken on a journey through a world, which existed seventy and eighty years ago, and back to today's world. We witness how the local population in Opatów interacts with perhaps the first Jew they ever meet – a person who represents a heritage so central in the history of the place, and yet so obscure to the people who live there today. Just as the people of contemporary Opatów, the viewer are introduced to a rich and vibrant world of Jewish rituals, celebrations and sorrows, holidays and funerals, trade and poverty – all this told and painted by an eye-witness, one of the very few remaining descendants of a lost civilization.

Sadly, Mayer passed away this past year, but his life and his passion for recreating the shtetl life that once existed in Opatów lives on in not only the aforementioned film of his work, but also within two exhibitions the Museum has created. Please visit both the Museum's main Kirshenblatt exhibition, as well as his work relating to the Jewish holidays.

--Tell Me Why: What one thing that is most difficult to discuss, and which happens to only so few of us... love. We dream of it, we struggle to find it... and want to believe that if we only do, the world will become a better place. But what if love comes to us at a time we ought to forget? What happens when love is intimately linked with tragedy?

A Polish Jew, Jurek Kamieniecki was just shy of 20 when the Second World War broke out in Poland. Together with his wife Stella they managed to survive the first year of the German occupation with the help of their Polish friend Janusz Malinowski. Janusz helped Jurek enter the Polish Home Army (AK) resistance and provided him and his family with false IDs. Thanks to this, in early 1940 Stella found asylum in the territories occupied by the Soviet Red Army. Though Jurek managed to illegally cross the border to see his wife, he chose to go back to the Polish partisan troops and continue resisting Nazi occupation.

To read more of the film's synopsis and see the film clip, please

--The Last Witness: The documentary spins a tale of Samuel Willenberg's life. He was twenty at the outbreak of the armed revolt on August 2nd of 1943 in the death camp of Treblinka in Poland. As a result of the revolt four hundred out of a thousand inmates managed to escape Treblinka. Sixty-seven of them survived the war. The narrative, however, is here and now, against the background of today's Poland and Israel.

There were only three armed mutinies in the history of Nazi death camps. The first one was in Treblinka, the second one in Sobibór on October 1943 and the third was in Birkenau (Brzezinka) in October 1944. The mutinies were caused by the world's indifference towards the Holocaust. Claude Lanzman told the Sobibór revolt story in his "Sobibor". The ‘Last Witness’ is the first film to tell the story of the Treblinka revolt. You can see the video clip at

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Ghosts of Home: The Afterlife of Czernowitz in Jewish Memory"

Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer have written a book about Czernowitz and the Museum, within the context of its Yiddish Vinkl Bookstore, has put online a synopsis of the book along with the book's preface. Here is a synopsis of the book:

The 20th century is over. Yet displaced survivors of its horrific wars and murderous “ethnic cleansings,” and their descendants now scattered throughout the world, are still haunted by the places they or their ancestors once called “home.” Many have made it their mission to research familial and cultural pasts, to revisit ancestral homes and to retrace the steps of lost family members, even when their initial information is scant. This longing for the past continues well into the twenty-first century and, in fact, is fueled by the enhanced possibilities for research offered by the Internet and even by DNA and genetic testing. Many important and minor sites that have long ceased to exist enjoy an active afterlife on the world wide web with websites devoted to them, listservs with growing memberships, and lively communities exchanging pictures and stories about their own or their parents’ past. This desire to reconstruct lost worlds seems to cross-generational, national, and ethnic lines.

We write about the afterlife in memory and history of one such place, Czernowitz – a city in Eastern Europe where, until its shattering and dispersal in the era of the Second World War, a large and assimilated -- predominantly German-speaking -- Jewish community once flourished.

Initially fascinating to us was the fact that Czernowitz, as a political entity, had in fact ceased to exist in 1918, with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Yet throughout its subsequent iterations – Cernauti under Romanian rule, Chernovtsi, under the Soviets – its Jewish inhabitants continued to live there as though not much had changed. They held on to what the Habsburgs had been able to offer Jews – emancipation and the promise of social integration and equality, in exchange for linguistic and cultural assimilation to Austrian ways of life. Even those who survived deportation and immense suffering under fascist/Nazi domination continued to maintain and to transmit to us -- the postwar generation -- strongly positive, nostalgic memories of a tolerant multi-ethnic city and culture that had long disappeared in reality. At the very same time, however, they also transmitted traumatic memories of persecution, deportation, displacement, and the loss of home.

Ghosts of Home follows several generations of people from this city and their descendants. Through interviews and oral accounts, memoirs, family albums, objects and memorabilia, and through a number of trips to present-day Chernivtsi (now Ukraine), we tell a multi-stranded story about twentieth century European Jews. Parts of that story are familiar: the story of Jewish assimilation and secularization, of the German-Jewish symbiosis that was to turn so tragic, of the encounter between fascism and communism, of the lure of Zionism and Hebrew, and the equally powerful lure of diaspora nationalism and Yiddish, and, of course, the story of the Holocaust. But, situated at the crossroads between East and West, and between the Soviet and Western spheres, Czernowitz also offers unknown stories about the fate of Europe’s Jews: stories of resilience, rescue and survival, of choices made in impossible circumstances, of the continuation of normality under extremity, of the perpetuation of the dream of multi-ethnic tolerance against immeasurable odds. In this first historical account in English of Czernowitz, we bring this dream to life, but we also show how the search for the past can result in active engagements with the present, even when that present is located across the world.

You can read the preface of the book at .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New to the MOFH Film Series: The Jews of Mukacheve, 1933"

Until March 7 you can see the complete film about the Jews of Mukacheve (also known as Munkacs and Munkatch) in 1933, including the two clips previously shown at the Museum as part of its Film Series:

"Wedding of Frime Chaye Rivke Spira - daughter of Grand Rebbe Eleazer Spira of Munkatch, author of Minchas Eleazer (d. 1936), to Rabbi Rabinowitz in March 1933. She was the mother of the present Munkatcher and Dinover Rebbes. Complete version.
Includes other scenes of Jewish life in Munkacs, Hungary, both of secular and religious Jews. 1. Wedding. Huge crowds of well wishers gather in the streets on the occasion of the wedding of the Munkacs Grand Rabbi's 18 year old daughter, Frime Chaye Rivke. The Munkatcher Rebbe makes a speech in Yiddish exhorting Jews in America to continue to keep Shabbos (to observe the sabbath day). The wedding party then enters the synagogue grounds, and the cantor sings blessings beneath the wedding canopy (chupah). The wedding concludes with festive hasidic music. Newspaper accounts indicate that some 20,000 people attended the celebrations. 2. Secular Jewish children singing in Munkatch. 3. Traditional Religious Jewish children studying in Orthodox Religious School in Munkatch. 4. Book peddler and weaver in Munkatch. 5. Secular Jews dancing in Munkatch."
-from YouTube.

The film can be seen at .

New to the MOFH Film Series' Al Jolson Film Festival: "Jolson Sings 'Kol Nidre'"

From now until March 7 you can see and hear Al Jolson sing "Kol Nidre."

This clip comes from the 1939 film "Hollywood Cavalcade" which features many stars such as Don Ameche and Alice Faye. The Jolson clip appears in the following scene: Don Ameche walks up to the front doors of the Criterion Theatre and asks a man standing outside, an employee of the theatre, if he can get a ticket. The man says it is standing room only, and if he doesn't mind standing, he can go in. What's playing? The 1927 film "The Jazz Singer" -- a "Vitaphone Singing Picture" starring Al Jolson as Jakie Rabinowitz, a cantor's son who wants to be in show business and not follow in his father's footsteps. Ameche walks in to the back of the theatre and hears Jolie begin "Kol Nidre." He looks up to the screen and sees and hears Jolie, replete in cantorial garb, complete the prayer.

The film clip can be seen at .

New to the MOFH Film Series: The "Dance of Death" from "The Dybbuk"

From February 20 to March 7, The Museum of Family History's Yiddish World presents --
The "Dance of Death" from "The Dybbuk," a 1937 Yiddish film:

"From the 1937 Yiddish film, directed by Michal Waszynski, original music by Henoch Kon. The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (Yid. דער דיבוק אדער צווישן צוויי וועלטן) is a 1914 play by S. Ansky, relating the story of a young bride possessed by a dybbuk — a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person — on the eve of her wedding.

The Dybbuk, is considered a seminal play in the history of Jewish theater, and played an important role in the development of Yiddish theatre and theatre in Israel. The play was based on years of research by S. Ansky, who travelled between Jewish shtetls in Russia and Ukraine, documenting folk beliefs and stories of the Hassidic Jews.

In 1937, the play, with some changes in the plot structure, was filmed by director Michał Waszyński in Warsaw, starring Lili Liliana as Leah, Leon Liebgold as Hannan (Channon, in the English-language subtitles), and Avrom Morevski as Rabbi Azrael ben Hodos. The film adds an additional act before those in the original play: it shows the close friendship of Sender and Nisn as young men. Besides the language of the film itself, the picture is noted among film historians for the striking scene of Leah's wedding, which is shot in the style of German Expressionism. The film is generally considered one of the finest in the Yiddish language.

The Dybbuk was filmed on location in Kazimierz, Poland, and in a Warsaw studio, in 1937."

Video and description from YouTube.

The film clip can be found at .

Monday, February 15, 2010

Material Needed: Jews in the Spanish Civil War

The Museum of Family History is constructing a small, online exhibition about the Spanish Civil War (which occurred between July 1936 and April 1939), especially how it affected the Jewish population both there and abroad, both as participants, e.g. soldiers/volunteers, or as civilians, and how in its aftermath created refugees, some of whom might have who immigrated to such countries as France and elsewhere.

The Museum would very much like to include personal stories from those who lived through this conflict, as well as a third person accounting of Jewish life in Spain and other locations during this period who were involved in this civil war. Perhaps you had family, e.g. from the U.S. or elsewhere, who volunteered to fight in this war, or who lived in a Spanish territory during this time.

If you lived through this period and have a story to tell (or have stories written or recorded as told to you or others from a family member or friend), or if you have photographs, family or otherwise, taken in these countries, etc., and would like to participate in this online exhibition, please contact the Museum directly at .

Friday, February 12, 2010

Great Britain Proposes a Jewish Colony in East Africa, 1903

In August of 1903 the sixth Zionist Congress was held in Basel, Switzerland. Dr. Theodor Herzl, president of the Congress, announced to those attending that Great Britain, in view of the failure of the plan to establish Jews on the Sinai Peninsula, had offered to the Zionists a large tract of territory in East Africa for colonization by the Jews, who would have an autonomous government under British suzerainty, or control.

You can read more about this proposition in an article published in the New York Daily Tribune. Just click on the link . Several more articles on this subject, including one that tells about the rejection of this proposition, will appear at the Museum in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Museum's Education and Research Center Map Room: Topographical Maps of Poland and more of the 1920s and 30s

Are you curious to see what the topography was like around the town or city in which your family lived while in Eastern Europe before World War II? Would you like to know what small towns and villages existed within a particular area before World War II?

Displayed within five web pages within the Museum's Map Room are more than one hundred topographic maps of various regions in Poland, along with some from Belarus and the Ukraine. Most maps shown have been divided into a right half and left half. All of the maps were drawn and produced between World Wars I and II. It is interesting to note the names of the various towns and villages in the surrounding areas as they appeared before World War II, as well as of course the varying topography within each region. The range of coordinates are given for each map, or rather for each two maps shown, as most of the maps shown are split into two halves.

Please visit .

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Look Back at the Coney Island of Yesteryear: A MOFH Video Presentation

Hurry, Hurry, step this way, for a nostalgic visit to the Coney Island of yesteryear!

The Museum of Family History invites you to spend an hour looking back at the once magnificent beach, boardwalk and amusement areas in Coney Island (from 1905 to 1952!), located in Brooklyn, New York. All videos come to you courtesy of YouTube. These films should be watched using Internet Explorer (though feel free to try using another browser!)

Here's what you can see for just one thin dime :

First, tag along with a group of young ladies from Miss Knapp's Select School as they spend the day at Coney Island in 1905.

Second, see Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in the silent film "Coney Island." The clip shown features Beautiful Luna Park in 1917.

Third, For many decades the beach and boardwalk at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York was the place to be on a hot summer day. There were also side shows and amusement parks with plenty of thrill rides, not to mention Nathan's famous hot dogs. See a YouTube video of the Coney Island of the 1940s and get a sense of how our family members who lived in the New York metro area spent their time more than five decades ago.

Fourth, you will see some of the Coney Island "freak show," which includes fire eaters, dancing girls and more, cir 1940s and 1950s.

Last, but not least: "Coney Island, U.S.A." (1952): "An impressionistic view of a day in the life of Coney Island from the desertion in the early morning to the hysteria at midnight. Commentary by Henry Morgan."

Come one, come all!!
The videos can be found at .

Saturday, February 6, 2010

MOFH Film Series: Now Showing, for Two Weeks Only

The current short films available within the Museum's Film Series will no longer be available for viewing beginning this coming Monday. Starting today, to be shown for two weeks, you may see the following:

"Immigration: An Instructional Film" (10:22).
Produced by the Encyclopedia Britannica Films, Inc. in 1946, this short film "reviews the history of immigration to the United States up to the restrictive law passed in 1924. A dramatized scene in a European steamship office is used to show the economic, political and religious motives for immigration. Contains scenes of Ellis Island and New York City in the early 20th century." This film plays only with Internet Explorer; however, a link is provided to another site that should enable you to play this film with other browsers.

See the Coney Island of the 1940s! (9:22).
For many decades the beach and boardwalk at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York was the place to be on a hot summer day. There were also side shows and amusement parks with plenty of thrill rides, not to mention Nathan's famous hot dogs. See a YouTube video of the Coney Island of the 1940s and get a sense of how our family members who lived in the New York metro area spent their time more than five decades ago.

The Al Jolson Film Festival - "Broadway Highlights: Intimate News of the Gay White Way" (10:39).
This short takes us down Manhattan's Broadway in 1935 with five stops where interesting events are occurring. First at Jack Dempsey's Restaurant, there is a testimonial dinner to famed band leader, the "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman; second a stop at the Winter Garden Theatre where there is a casting call for Earl Carroll's Vanities; third, a stop at the Hollywood Restaurant where Sophie Tucker performs "Some of these Days"; fourth we get a peek at opening night of "Ceiling Zero," a 1935 play with Osgood Perkins and Margaret Perry, performed at the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street. The final stop on this tour is the NBC building at Radio City, where there is a rehearsal for "Shell Chateau," one of Al Jolson's radio programs, with the Victor Young Orchestra and starring boxer Max Baer. Two months after this broadcast, Max Baer would lose a famed fight to down-and-out James J. Braddock (The "Cinderella Man" bout.)

World Jewish Communities: "Buying a Religious Book in Mukacheve" (1:08).
In this 1933 film clip, you can see students leaving a yeshiva and one boy seeking to by a religious book.

You can find links to these films at .

MOFH Film Series: Last Day for Viewing

Tomorrow, Sunday, February 7th, will be the last day that you can see the following short films and clip as part of the new Museum of Family History's Film Series. After Sunday these films will be replace by new ones, which in turn, will only be available for viewing for two weeks (starting today):

"It's Your Story" - National Museum of American Jewish History (11:45).

The Museum, located in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (address: Independence Mall East, 55 North 5th Street), is scheduled to open sometime during the Fall of 2010. Here you may view a nice introductory short film produced by the Museum. The Museum's website can be found at YouTube, fast download.

The Museum's Al Jolson Film Festival - "Hollywood's Famous Feet" (8:40).
[Please note that this film clip is large and may take two minutes or longer to fully download.]

With Al Jolson doing the narration, this short presents the story behind the famous footprints and signatures outside of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and many of the top names in Hollywood are on hand to view the proceedings, including John Wayne, Ralph Staub, Donna Reed, Gene Autry, Edgar Bergen, Sid Grauman, Ken Murray and John Stahl... -- per IMDb. Festival film clips come courtesy of the International Al Jolson Society (IAJS).
IAJG website: .

World Jewish Communities: "The Children of Mukacheve Sing 'Hatikvah'" (0:53).
In this pre-war film clip, you can hear a couple of hundred children of Mukacheve, Hungary sing the wonderful anthem "Hatikvah."

You can find links to these clips as well as links to future film series entries at .

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Evolution of the Immigrant: The Exodus of the Jew to the Upper East Side and its Causes

This 1903 article that appeared in the New York Daily-Tribune discusses the participation of Jews in the speculative real estate boom on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which in this case refers to the area north of 59th Street.

The article states in part:

"The story of these men adjusting themselves to conditions and places is similar to that of nearly every Hebrew who once was recorded as an immigrant at Ellis Island. It is difficult for the Hebrew immigrant to forget the section of the city where he found himself and his family most welcome on arriving here. As years passed his affection for the section—the lower East Side—grew greater, if anything, and this fact was and is revealed nearly every week in many ways. Financial success caused many Hebrews to take homes uptown, but vast throngs of Hebrews who are now called wealthy, and who came to this country as immigrants, have up to the present time stood proof against all temptations to become identified in any way with any other section of the city than the lower East Side. Suddenly these Hebrews have changed "about face," and they have decided not only to become owners of tenement and flat houses in the section on the East Side north of Fifty-ninth St., but also hereafter to make their homes in that section. Is not this, indeed, an interesting spectacle in realty affairs, and an important real estate movement in the history of this city?"

This is article number 117 within the Museum's Newspaper Archives. It can be found at .

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New for Poland Researchers

For those of you with an interest in the Polish towns of Augustow and Wizna, please visit the two pages I've created for these towns.

On the Augustow page you will find two calendars published by the Yagustower Progressive Association (W.C. Branch no. 77 from 1919 and 1925).
link: .

On the Wizna page you will find an image of a pin created by the society for its members. You'll also see the photos of the gates of the society's burial plots in New York and New Jersey with a link to the unique surnames list for Wizna for all New York and New Jersey Wizna society burials. .

Don't forget that the Museum has a page that lists the towns in Poland that are associated with the many online exhibitions at the Museum. Link: .
Also for the area of Bialystok
There is also a Lithuania page at .

Other recent additions mentioned in previous blog posts:

The Lodz Ghetto Cemetery Burial List: .

From Kishinev to Bialystok: A Table of Pogroms From 1903-1906: .

Instructions Imprinted on Letter Cards sent from Concentration Camps: .

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Instructions for sending letters, material and money to concentration camp inmates

I have received a number of translations of instructions for senders of material, money, etc. to camp inmates. These instructions were imprinted on postal cards used at concentration camps such as Auschwitz. They are instructions for those who would receive these cards from those who were incarcerated in a camp. One such translation, from an Auschwitz card, is shown below. It should be noted that such instructions were standard, as I have similar or the same exact instructions imprinted on cards from other camps such as Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck, Sachsenburg, Sachsenhausen, Theresienstadt et al.

I have been informed that the Sachsenburg concentration camp was the first concentration camp to provide printed lettercards for prisoner correspondence, beginning in 1935. Of course, letters that came into and out of the various camps had to pass through censors. Often times the actual stamps on the cards were removed by the censors to see if there were any secret messages hidden under the stamps.

Below then is a translation from an Auschwitz letter card, though as I've stated, the instructions are similar or the same for other camps. By the way, I have examples of such instructions from the mid to late thirties through at least 1944. You can see other examples of such instructions at . Here then is the translation from the Auschwitz letter card:

The following orders must be observed at letter exchanges with prisoners:

1) Each preventive detention prisoner is allowed to receive and send each month two letters or (post)cards from his relatives. The letter to the prisoners must be readable, written with ink, and can contain only fifteen lines per sheet. Only normal sized letter sheets are permitted. Envelopes must not be lined but simple. A single letter can contain only five stamps of 12 Pfg (= Pfennig). All others are forbidden and will be seized.

2) The sending of money is not allowed.

3) It is important that in the sending of post or the transfering of money, the exact address must consist of the name, the date of birth, and prisoner's number. If the address is not exact it will be returned or destroyed.

4) Newspapers are allowed but must be ordered at the post office of the K.L Auschwitz only. ( K.L = Konzentrations Lager).

5) Sending of parcels is not allowed since prisoners can buy anything in the camp.

6) Requests to the direction of the camp to free from preventive detention (ie. imprisonment) are pointless.

7) Permission to speak or to meet with prisoners in the Concentration Camp is absolutely not allowed.

The Commandant of the Camp.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Within the 'Pale' of Jewish Russia, cir 1910; More for Ukraine Researchers

The Museum of Family History now has for you a 1910 newspaper article from the Herald-Republican of Salt Lake City, Utah.

Entitled "Within the 'Pale' of Jewish Russia" and written by B.T. Marshall, this article should be interesting to Ukraine researchers for a number of reasons.

First, the author of the article talks about the Jews of Kiev (spelled 'Kief' in this article), and how, despite the persecution and atrocities committed against them in the past, showed much resilience to that point and "now control the best shops, factories, theatres, etc..."

Secondly, the author talks about the Jews of Odessa; this includes an "interesting" quote from a non-Russian Jew there.

The author also describes what he believes to be the cause of the pogroms and describes Jewish life in the Pale, in the military, etc.

Thirdly, this article talks about the overall state of Russian Jewry in the Pale of Settlement during this time period. It should be an interesting read for you.

This article is one of more than one hundred articles in the Museum's Newspaper Archive which can be found at The article itself can be found directly at

More for Ukraine researchers:
The listing of much of the Museum's material of interest to Ukraine researchers can be found at

And don't forget the Duma Report and listing of pogroms (1903-6), many of which occurred in what is today's Ukraine. This can be found at

Unique surnames for burials in New York associated with society plots for nine Ukrainian towns. Learn the town names by visiting the Recent Updates page at

Lastly, you can see and hear a minute audio clip of a few dozen Jewish children in Mukacheve, Ukraine (Munkacs, Hungary) sing "Hatikvah." The link is The last day that this clip will be available at the Museum is February 6, so see it before it goes offsite.