June 22 – Kaunas and Environs

You would think (or at least I would) that sitting in a car all day would be restful, especially if you weren’t the one driving. Well, it isn’t really restful, especially if you keep asking the drive to slow down or stop and hop out of the car to go investigate a building, a cemetery or a plaque.  All of that jumping in and out of the car really adds up – over 16,000 steps worth! Obviously it was more than just rushing out of the car to take photos and then getting back in. In fact, the stops we made were incredibly interesting.

We started the day in Vilijampole which is the district that until the mid 1800s, Jews lived, near Kaunas.  Vilijampole is an area, like Kazimierz that is outside the city walls and at one time was a separate city that was set aside for Jewish inhabitants.  Today, there are no Jews there. Last year we briefly stopped in Vilijampole, and only had time to look at the Yeshiva that was there. The building, in disrepair, still stood, but there have been no Jewish students there since the war.

Today, except for the distinctive tower, we would not have recognized it at all. It’s being rebuilt into an office complex. Even the plaque is missing.

I really hope they put the plaque back.

On this trip we visited all the building we could find that were previously part of the Jewish community. It was extremely moving. The cemetery…words cannot convey my feelings.

Our next stops brought us to non-Jewish research. Towns which at one time each had a sizable Jewish population, but the research we were doing was in the Lutheran and Roman Catholic world. To our surprise, in Sakiai, once home of a small Lutheran community, with a church, there was no cemetery.

We stopped at a tourist information center, and the women who worked there tried very hard to get us to visit all the sites they thought were important (most in nearby towns) and kept giving us directions that sounded like “when you get to Mrs. Brown’s house make a right and go until you get to the old farm and then go left….”  Lina tried to convince them that she couldn’t follow the directions because we weren’t from there and hadn’t been there before, but they just kept telling her how to get place. They were certainly very enthusiastic about their home!

Our final stop for the day was at Višakio Rūda.  A lot of towns in the area have Rūda as part of their name. Lina said it means “ore” but that there was never a mining operation there, so maybe there was some ore of some sort found there at some time, and various places incorporated it into their name. Višakio is the name of a river that runs through town.  The town was charming and the graveyard well kept up. A lot of people were out gardening around their family’s plot. Interestingly, we found a couple of stones for the family we were researching. That’s always the sign of a good day.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

In the air again – June 21

Flying between Poland and Lithuania is as easy as driving – no sense of crossing a border. In fact, it was so easy, it was a little worrying.  I showed my passport to check my bags and get a boarding pass. I couldn’t check in on line. At check in, I also got a seat assignment – seats aren’t assigned on these flights until that point.  Security was, for those of us used to a couple of check points on the way to putting baggage on the belt, a little different. No id check, just put bags on – no TSA Pre, so computers come out of bags.

Plane left on time and landed easily in Vilnius – I hadn’t flown in to Lithuanian before, so this was my first glimpse of the airport. This time, my bags arrived with no fuss, and I exited to find Lina waiting – so glad to see her and Gabriel, who would be driving us around for a few days.

Next stop, car pickup.  The quirk here is that the person whose credit card is being used must also be the driver, so Gabriel and I can both drive the car. I probably won’t but it’s always good to have a backup driver.

Not exactly a short drive, but not very long either, and we were in Kaunas, which some readers might recognize as Kovno.  Our snappy little orange car was promptly named Cinnamon.  We checked into the same hotel we stayed at last year, down the street from the Kaunas archives.  Over the next couple of days, since the archives are closed on the weekend, we’ll be driving to various towns and looking for things for clients whose families were from there.  DSC00152

We had dinner, as planned down the street from the hotel, at the ever elegant and creative Uoksas, which we had eaten at last year.  After dinner we took a walk in search of ice cream for me – Lina and Gabriel had already had dessert. We were surprised that the construction that was disrupting foot traffic all along the street was not only still going on but was even more extensive.  I wonder how the shops survive.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Uncategorized

June 20 – a last day in Poland

Today was our last day in Poland. Well, not really. It was my last day in Poland. Marek will be here doing more research for another 4 days. I’m leaving tomorrow for Lithuania where I will join Lina. Our research plans include the archives in Kaunas and Vilnius and visiting a dozen or more small towns in various regions not too distant from Kaunas and Vilnius, to meet with historians on behalf of clients, and to get photos for clients.

Today though, I’m still in Warsaw, and the day was glorious. I should comment on the weather since I got here a week ago.  Unlike in southeast Poland, the temperature has been on the uncomfortably hot side. Except for this morning, it’s only rained at night. What a contrast to my last trip.

I am fascinated by buildings, mostly on the old side. Some have history that is part of the war ravaged city, but others are just old, and from their appearance, one can only imagine the stories they could tell.

Most of the day was spent wandering the Praga district. It’s the Corpus Christi holday and most things except for private shops and restaurants are closed. There are throngs of people in the streets going to church. It rained slightly in the morning, but by late afternoon, the sun was shining and the temperatures were once again uncomfortably high.  We took off for Belvedere and spend a very pleasant couple of hours in the relative cool of the shady trees.

Perfect day. Good way to end this portion of my trip. Next stop – Vilnius.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Uncategorized

June 18-19 – A long Day

Some days seem to blend together. Some days I can’t seem to separate from the day before or after.  These two days, seemed to be like one very long inseparable time.  Perhaps it’s best if I start with the food. Meals I can separate. Two very memorable courses from two distinct restaurants – Literatka Restaurant in Stare Miasto was the site of several pleasant dinners and lunches this trip. Particularly worth noting was the asparagus appetizer.  Dinner on the 19 was at the ever-memorable Red Pig.  Great ambiance and a good touch to the end of these two days. Marek said that with dessert I needed to have a glass of a cherry liquor.  It’s really a vodka-cherry-rum liquor, and went perfectly with the chocolate shell filled with berries and something wonderful whose name and ingredients I don’t know!

Warsaw, like so much of Eastern Europe evokes a very strong emotional response from me.  There’s a tension between the old and the new, between what I know of the history and the contrast between that and what I think I’m seeing. Then, there’s the tension between the medieval history and the relatively modern history. My head feels like it’s spinning. It’s difficult to grasp how all of these realities can possibly exist in one physical space. By the way, to answer those of you who have asked if I have personally seen any anti-Semitic acts or heard any slurs – I have not. I feel guarded because I know that there is probably something just beneath the surface, but perhaps because I am with safe people, I find myself relaxing that guard.

Earlier today, when visiting one of the remnants of the Warsaw Ghetto wall, I met a family of Israelis.  Their ancestors were from all over Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine. They knew that one of their ancestors was in the ghetto and they don’t know where he died. Why is knowing the place of a person’s death or burial so important? Why is knowing how and when they died so haunting? I don’t need answers – there are no real answers to these and so many other questions that this place evokes. There is pain, there are tears. All around are the remains of what was here prior to the war, what survived, what was rebuilt, and what was left to disintegrate. Plaques everywhere commemorate spaces where Jews once lived and where they were murdered. Plaques commemorate the bravery of Jew and non-Jew attempting to fight off something they battled against. They lost, but didn’t loose. Ultimately of course the war ended. There is still a Jewish people. One of the really difficult things I grapple with is the size of the Jewish population in the cities and towns – everywhere we go – this restaurant, that building, a shop, a school, an office, a factory, a theater, a hospital, a dormitory – all owned and operated by Jews.  The percentages of the population that were Jewish in so many of these towns is astounding – the memories lay like ghosts, I feel like I’m walking through a hologram.  Of course, the good side of all of this, if there is a good side, is that we עם ישראל the people of Israel, the remnant of Israel שארית ישראל  are still here, walking the earth, still doing good, and by much of the work so many of us are doing, restoring the memory of those we lost.

Perhaps the above explains why these two days were one long day.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Monday, June 17 – a walking day

I love walking in cities – there is no telling what you might (or might not) find lurking just around a corner. Every day and every step is an adventure.  Today, Marek and I wandered around – not aimlessly, we had a purpose in mind.  When traveling, we try to find the buildings in which the families of clients lived. Often documents have house numbers or addresses. In this case, we had two addresses. Our hotel, the Sofitel Victoria, was pretty much in the center. We arbitrarily chose one of the addresses as our destination, and headed off to find Muranowska Street, in the Muranow neighborhood. You would think that a street named after the area in which it is located would be easy to find, and, well, central to that neighborhood.  Remember, Warsaw was almost completely leveled during WWII, so a lot of things that were, are no longer.  This street however, was definitely but pretty odd. It was all of one block long, with only two buildings. One is now an Ibis hotel, and is #2. We were looking for #34.  Across the street, where we hoped to find that the street was renamed but could identify where #34 was, definitely had not been renamed.  The address came from a typed 52 page alien file from the US Department of Immigration and Naturalization.

A hospital and other church buildings that survived the war dated back to the 18th century. A friendly policeman said that the apartment block at #1 Muranowska was probably what we were looking for. He told us that #34 was an apartment located inside #1.

On to the next address on Nowomiejska Street. On our way there was passed closed by the Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute on Tłomackie and stopped in there. I have gotten assistance many times, over the years from a wonderful researcher, and wanted to see the facility.  It was wonderful to see all the activity going on inside, and we stopped at the book store and purchased some maps and a couple of books.

On Novomiejska Street, again, we didn’t find the house number (13) we were looking for. The document from which I  got the street number and name was a 1912 ship manifest.  Both the street and number were clear, but again, there was no 13. There was however 1/3 – perhaps it was that. We couldn’t get beyond the gate to find out.

Is it possible, however, that the street name was not Nowomiejska but rather Nowowiejska? Of course the spelling on the manifest lacks the “j” that is in the Polish name. Nowomiejska It’s impossible to tell at this point in time, what it was supposed to be. The page of the manifest has a uniform handwriting, indicating that it was copied over from somewhere else, and this could be a scribal error. Only finding other records of this family could possibly resolve the issue.

The evening presented a wonderful Chopin piano recital. These go on all over Warsaw every day. It was a beautiful, and intimate room, a talented pianist and a wonder and relaxing end to an almost 30,000 step day (over 12 miles)!

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Uncategorized

Warsaw – June 16 – day 1.5

To all you dads out there – happy dad’s day.  For me (and my dad) Father’s Day is extremely special. I was his first gift – born oh those many years ago on Father’s Day. Our tradition is to wish each other a happy birthday on Father’s Day. For those of you who are wondering – I sent him a text early this morning and then phoned from Poland. If you can, have you called your father today?

Last summer while in Warsaw, I never left the hotel the conference was in except to go to dinner almost every night. The most I saw of Warsaw was on our last evening in Poland when we all went to dinner int he old city.  This year, we are staying a short walk away.  Today, a visit to the Polin Museum was on our list.

My luggage was delivered last night, and I slept, so all was well with the world (well my little piece of it anyway) this morning.  Marek and I went walking through the old city (Stary Miasto).  It’s really so charming. There’s no telling what lurks around the corner.

We walked to the Polin Museum, arriving just before our scheduled English tour.  The Museum is truly amazing. Our guide was nice, but her choice of words when describing Jewish history, while diplomatic, was misleading and put a gloss on Jewish history which was out of place. It’s really interesting hearing that the Jews decided to leave Spain and go to Poland, or that, in for example Krakow and Kazimierz, the Jews chose to live outside the Krakow city walls.  The tour was a 2 hour walking tour, with a lot of listening. There were so many words, at some point I just tuned out. I highly recommend the Museum. Maybe a better way would be to go through the core exhibit, reading the story boards, etc, at one’s own pace and then coming back for a tour to fill in gaps. The story boards are extremely well done.DSC09884

We walked and walked. All told by the time we got back to the hotel we had walked about 15,000 steps – thank you FitBit for that information.

On the way back to the hotel we passed by the remnants of the Warsaw ghetto. It was interesting seeing signs embedded in the pavement that told us where the walls stood.DSC09896.JPG

I was very moved, to the point of tears at the Museum when we were walking through the area devoted to the history of the area from September 1, 1939 through the war. It’s the other part of the balance of the camps on one side and what happened to the people before they were sent to the camps, or who never got there.

This evening, at dinner with Marek and one of our researchers who lives in Poland, the researcher asked which of the Polish cities I liked best. I didn’t know how to answer, so I replied honestly. Warsaw and Krakow are beautiful, as a city not ravaged by the war, Krakow like Przsemysl has an incredible beauty as a medieval city. Small towns and villages and the countryside are breathtaking. Warsaw in its reconstructed and renovated state has a distinctly poignant beauty, but I can’t get away from the memory of war and death and extraordinary tragedy. I see it in the streets and feel it in the stones we walk on. On the one hand, I wish I could forget and ignore what transpired, on the other hand, I’m glad that I can’t. It all needs to be remembered and not repeated. Not here, not anywhere.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Tomorrow has arrived

Yes, today was once tomorrow – if that sounds confusing, you probably don’t want to be inside my head (actually you probably never want to be inside my head). After a 10+ hour trip from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam, we arrived half an hour late. Generally no biggie, but in this case, it was a bit stressful. If you’ve been to the Amsterdam airport, you’ll be able to picture the dash to passport control from way over on the other side of the airport. There was originally only 70 minutes between flights. The delay wasn’t made up in the air so we landed with only 45 minutes. Exiting from the plane to the tarmac, getting on a bus to the terminal ate into those precious minutes, so did the dash to passport control, to say nothing of waiting on line – we guard got me into the line in from of the first person whose flight was leaving later than mine but the guy in front of me had some sort of problem (whatever it was, it was in one of the many languages I don’t speak. Finally got through passport control.

My gate was next to the last one (86 out of 87) at the far end of the terminal. Thankfully, that flight was delayed by 9 minutes. I got to the line behind the last 5 people. The flight from Amsterdam to Warsaw was just as calm as the flight to Warsaw. All was well wiht the world until it came to baggage. Mine was nowhere to be found.  The Delta app indicated that it would be on a later flight, arriving almost 5 hours after me! Still calm, but sweating in my too hot clothes, I filled out a lost baggage claim and they promised my stuff would be delivered to the hotel tonight.

Marek was waiting for me, and we caught a cab to the center of old town – that was where our charming, old hotel was. Marek had already been there, and told me that I didn’t want to be. He was right. It was indeed charming  – on the outside. The best I could say about the rooms was that they were tiny and very hot. No a/c.  We went on a madcap quick search for a hotel with the amenities our previously chosen place was supposed to have, and lucked out with the beautiful and recently renovated Sofitel.

We made a mad dash to get our stuff which we had stashed in Marek’s room. That mad dash took us past many, many ice cream and gelato stalls.  Do you know how delicious chocolate sorbet can be? Trust me, it’s incredible.

After being awake for about 30 hours, I think I need to sleep now.

W

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

Tomorrow and Today: Reflections

Today I am packing and preparing for a diverse travel and research experience in two countries that share so much history and yet retained very distinct cultures, languages and much more. I’ll be landing in Warsaw and spending a week doing things that I didn’t have time to do last year during the IAJGS conference – visiting archives, museums and exploring the city. The first time I remember learning anything about Warsaw more than just a cursory mention of the city’s name was in Junior High School back in the dark ages when there were still Junior High Schools – I think it was in 7th grade that we read Uris’ book, Mila 18. As in so many other places I travel in Eastern Europe, echoes and shadows of the Shoah follow in my tracks. The history of what happened in these places is never far from my thoughts. However, these places are, I admit, so much more than those echoing tears and screams. Reconstruction and restoration has not erased them. I don’t know the words to use that are proper here but I will say that the Jewish presence is very obvious whether in the various monuments, historical markers or even in conversation about the people who were.

Last year as I traveled through Warsaw, Kaunas, Vilnius, recording my thoughts in photos and words, some of which were reflected in the blog posts I wrote on this site, everything was new for me, and I’m sure there was a lot I didn’t register. This year, as I revisit the archives in Lithuania, as I ride and walk through some of the same towns and streets I visited last year, I wonder what kind of impressions I will take away.

After  week in Warsaw, I’ll be in Lithuania for two weeks. Last year I faced our trip with a great deal of trepidation, this year I am eager to learn more, see more, and remember and reflect not only what happened,  but what is today, what is in the here and now.

Posted in Uncategorized

May 31 Archives and More

I can’t believe it – between yesterday and today, Marek and I each stood for over 11 hours making copies of documents in archives and parish repositories.  My aching feet. Oh, yeah – my back is beyond aching.  At the 1 hour point, it was aching, 5 hours later, I could barely move.

Researching in archives (I know I’m repeating myself) is very much like untangling a ball of wool after the cat’s been playing with it all day. If Marek and I hadn’t gone to the Mielec Office of Civil Records, we wouldn’t have found out about the museum. If we hadn’t gone to the museum, we wouldn’t have found out that the Rzeszow archives (where we were going anyway) held ID applications.  These ID card applications include birth records, marriage records and information about travel, family history and more.  Some of them had over 20 documents attached! And most precious of all – there are photos of the applicants, sometimes multiple photos from different years. To find the records you want, you need t loo in two places – in printed indexes, and in indexes only available on servers at the archives.  Of course there are duplications, but there are plenty of records in one place and not the other.DSC08237

Records generally have to be requested the day before you want to look at them, so it’s a two day process.

The best things we looked at over the last two days were a book of church records from the 1780s and a wooden church built in the late 15h century.DSC07940

The church was in Łęki Górne (pronounced Wenki Gorna) which in itself was a sort of strange town.  It was very long, and on either side of the main road were country roads that led off to field or sometimes houses. The lanes had signs that looked like street signs. Really, there were no street signs – these signs had the town name and the house numbers that were on the streets.

Back to the US tomorrow for a couple of weeks.  BTW – if you’r in Krakow, I thoroughly recommend Papa Gelato – after tasting ice cream and gelato all over this area of Poland for two weeks (after all, a day without ice cream is a day really missing something) Papa Gelato was my absolute favorite.

Just FYI – getting information is sometimes really difficult – you don’t know the questions to ask that will point you in the right direction. As we were leaving the Rzeszow archives, Marek was having a discussion with the director of the reading room who told him that all the metrical records for Kolbuszowa were in the library there! The big question is what are they doing there? Unfortunately, those will have to wait for another trip. Marek is off to Ukraine to do research for a few days before meeting me in Warsaw on June 15.  I’ll spend a few days in Warsaw and then head off for Lithuania for two weeks.

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Jewish Genealogy, Uncategorized

May 29 & 30 Polish Towns and Archives

Our objective during the last few days of travel was to get to the archives in Sanok and Rzeszow, to go back to a parish office and look at records there, and to drive to several places to hunt down leads of where documents might be stored.  Our first stop was Mielec (pronounced Mee-eh-lets).DSC06984

The countryside is so green and lush.  Of course, the rain which has been almost non-stop is the reason for it.  I could have used a few drier days during this trip. Perhaps when I return in two weeks to Warsaw, there will be less precipitation.

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Our first stop in Mielec was the Office of the Civil Records. This is where records are held prior to being turned over to the Historical Archives, and many but not all of the records come under privacy laws.  We wanted to find out what they had that might be pertinent to the Jewish community that was once here.  The director of the Office was very nice.  He showed us some books that they have which had indexes of names and spoke with us for quite a while about where records in Mielec might be.  He told us that there was a ruin of the former synagogue near the central square and that the local museum might have information for us. Off we headed to explore the town and find the museum.

I know that WWII affected more than just the Jewish community. I know that a lot of innocent people were murdered in the camps and on the streets.  I know this. I never claim that this wasn’t so.  Poles still live and thrive in their ancestral towns. All that is left, in most places, like Mielec, of a Jewish community numbering about 3,000 in mid-20th century, is a stone in an empty field where a synagogue once stood, and a cemetery whose stones are mostly at the bottom of a nearby river.

I understand that there is a project at the university in Krakow that is trying to read and record the stones which remain in the field and in the river. At least the names will be remembered.

I’m glad that most of our time remaining here will be spent in archives, looking at old records which for the most part, don’t stir such feelings of anguish. Parish records – baptisms, marriage banns and death records are also safe places for me to go.  My emotions as I walk the streets of the communities that were, just make me want to leave here, but on the other hand, I am here, we still live.

On to the museum which hopefully will be able to give us some insight into where records might be.DSC07064

The director at the museum was amazing, and spent a long time with us, showing us some books.  One of the books was the book we looked at while we were at the Office of the Civil Records and there was a copy he could sell us.  Two other books I was able to get online – a good thing since my luggage is definitely lacking space.

He told us of identity card applications which are held in Rzeszow archives.  We plan to spend parts of our last two days in those archives.  We headed out to the Sanok archives first, to look for some records we hoped would be there, but they were not.

The 30th was spent primarily in doors, photographing records, and there isn’t much to report YET – we have to return to pick up the records.

As I write this, in the US it is very late at night on the 30 or very early in the morning on the 31, depending on where your are (of course) and early morning on the 31 in Rzeszow.  I have to rush out to get to the Rzeszow archives around 8 AM and I absolutely must have coffee first.

 

Posted in Eastern European Travel, Genealogy, Uncategorized