I’m not speaking of remembering to write in my blog on at least a weekly basis. That was a rather hopeful 2017 resolution which failed almost immediately. I’m speaking, rather, of the importance of keeping people and places alive in our memories and documentation so that there will be a place for them in the future.
Once of the tragedies of immigration from Eastern Europe to the United States, at least among Jewish immigrants in the late 19th-20th centuries is a lack of connection or continuity for their descendants. I know that’s a broad stroke, and our families all took with them stories that they might have repeated to their children and grandchildren. Those stories with details of daily life are very important, but they often left out details, like names and specific places. It is the memory of at least the names and perhaps some small details of the lives of those ancestors that I feel compelled to discover.
My paternal grandfather spoke of an older cousin who he called “Julius” who had run away to serve in some army at a distant place. That’s right, he didn’t run away from being conscripted, but rather to join an army. Periodically he came back to where my grandfather and his parents lived, in Suczeawa, and my great-grandmother would roast a leg of lamb. My grandfather neglected to provide a surname for Julius, but did say that he eventually settled in England and became a barrister or solicitor or maybe a member of the House of Commons. My grandfather was born in 1903, so all I really know is that this happened after 1903 and before 1920 when my grandfather came to the US.
My grandfather, Harry Silberman died in 1985. A few years before he died, he asked me if I could find a person who was very important to his mother, Perl. This woman was in Montreal. Her last name was Goldenzweig – he didn’t know her first name. Back in those days there were few resources readily available to a genealogist with limited funds for on-site research. I looked in the places that were available, and periodically would look some more over the ensuing years. I found people named Goldenzweig in Montreal, primarily in cemeteries and death records, but I had no idea who I was looking for or even why.
When my grandfather died, he left behind boxes and boxes and boxes of old papers and letters. Since his death, I have had most of the letters translated from Polish, Russian, German. There were several letters in Yiddish and one letter in a language no one was able to identify. I finally found a great Yiddish translator who translated the Yiddish letters, from my great-great grandfather, Moses, Harry’s dad. They are for a future post.
Once the Yiddish letters were translated, I pulled out the unidentifiable letter yet again. I must have looked at it dozens of times over the years. This time, I realized the letter was in German interspersed with Yiddish. I could not make out any of the words. A fantastic translator was able to translate the difficult to read German and to my shock, it was from a woman whose surname was Goldenzweig. Her first name was Bertha, Yiddish, Braina. From that letter, I discovered her identity. She was my great-grandmother Perl’s sister. Perl was Harry’s mom, so this was from his aunt! Harry, based on my conversations with him, had no idea. Further research revealed that she and her husband had left Galicia in about 1901, before my grandfather was born.
Perl arrived in the US in May 1928. Bertha died in Montreal in May 1929. She had no children. Although her husband survived her,it seems that he never communicated with Perl. Whatever the reason, Perl never knew that her sister died.