Provenance

Persistence finally pays off

Q. How difficult can it possibly be to find a passage record for a Lithuanian immigrant to America when one has the date of arrival (within a day or two) and the port of arrival?

A. Extremely difficult and most challenging.

Label Sandler AKA Leib or Louis Sandler and his wife Khana Reisel AKA Anna Rose had written on their Naturalization Indexes that they arrived on a given date at a given port. Anna’s document had both the port and date whereas Louis’ had a date one day later than his wife’s card but no port.

I had every other record attached for them, births, marriage, deaths etc. So one would assume that the site I was working on would have given me a hint to the arrival. No, it didn’t. I searched and searched but to no avail. I changed search terms, performed wildcard searches but came up with nothing.

After coming back to these records intermittently over time and coming up with nothing, I decided it was time for extreme measures. I decided to to manipulate the system somewhat. I was determined to find those records. No computer or transcriber was going to stop me.

I went to another site, searched for the shipping manifests for Baltimore Arrivals only to discover that there were a mere 119,418 images to look through and who knows how many names. Fortunately they are categorized in years.

Now there were only 1230 records to trawl through.

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One has to take a guess at what image to start with in order to get to the correct date. Once one has selected the correct date, there are still about 90 records for a passenger list. Extreme patience is the key.

Well, I found Label and all the information on the passage record matches him. However the handwriting was a challenge. It is no wonder his name was mis-transcribed by the first site mentioned. Well, kind of. To top things off he was listed as a female. Hence there was absolutely no way I was going to find him in the regular search parameters.

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If you cannot manage to read the original record, they have written him as Schandler, Leibe, 21, M (male), Shoemaker.

One would have thought that in order to link this record to him on the first site, I would simply need to go back to that site and start a fresh search for Schandler, Leibe arriving on the correct date, give the name of the vessel and arrival port.

But to no avail. He still did not show up.

Yes, frustration was settling in nicely by now.


So what did I have to do?

I had to go to every Baltimore passage record on site 1 and trawl through all their records for that ship. Fortunately it was an alphabetical listing of names. I got to the ‘S’ surnames, hoping that they had at least transcribed that correctly.

And there he (she in their case) was:

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Not quite Leib and not quite male. Nevertheless, I finally found and connected him to his passage record.

But, where was his wife Anna (Khana)? Usually the family members are listed together on passage records.

Yet again, to no avail. The problem was that there were no other Sandlers, Schandlers or anything similar to be found. Time to think laterally, as always.

Fortunately, I knew her maiden name after finding their marriage document in Lithuania. Yes, I had to start the entire process again to find her on both sites.

Anna (Khana) had the maiden name Levin. I found her on site 2.

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But look at the greyed out box above her name.

Her surname/maiden name Levin was actually crossed out and written above in pencil on the original passenger list is her married name “Schandler” - not quite sure what the other annotations are yet. Why this was not picked up by the transcriber on site 1 is beyond me. All that was left to do was to find how site 1 decided to list her.

Wait for it…

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Hessie Leevon!

Thought I had seen it all. There have been others but that’s another story.

Hmmm,  Anna (Khana) Sandler = Hessie Leevon.

Genealogical searching requires extreme persistence, perseverance and patience.

There is one reward though; one gets a great sense of accomplishment when the records are finally found.

It Only Took 5 Years Of Patience…

As most Jewish genealogists know, there are many interesting places to source a family genealogy.

My father had photo-copied the signature and some handwritten text that was penned by his grandfather.

For 5 long years I have been turning my parents’ house upside down in search of the original book within which I was seeking more information on my great grandfather.

My great grandfather and grandfather were from Zolynia, a small shtetl in Galicia.

My grandfather, Arieh Leib Wilkenfeld Z”L

This morning I was at my parents home getting some items I have stored there for a piece of genealogical based Judaic artwork I am about to produce. I had kept a box of Seforim (books) that belonged to my grandfather in a box at their home. I decided to look through those books yet again.

I am an avid collector of Antique Judaic Seforim. As a consequence, I usually know what I am looking for when seeking a specific book. The set of Seforim I was looking at did not appear to be Seforim at all. 

These were cloth covered and crudely bound with a black heart on the cover. The heart on the front was most unusual to have on the front of a holy book.

I had looked in the front of these books before, had seen my grandfathers name and stamps of various location he had lived in.

This morning, though, was different.

Opening the front of one of these books, I realised this was a set of Chumashim (Torah in print) used in the Synagogue to follow the reading of the Torah. 

One of these Chumashim however was turned the wrong way around in the box. As I was in the process of pulling it out of the box, my mother was asking me to assist her with something. Somehow, as I was turning to look at her, my grip on the book almost made me drop the book. Fortunately, I held onto the back cover and the last page. The rest of the book opened.

And there it was!

The signature of my great grandfather Eliyakim Getzel Wilkenfeld in the back of the Chumash.

First in English.

Then in Hebrew.

And what a signature it was!

I grabbed my mother as I danced with joy around her garage.

I kissed her many times telling her that at least this was one time I did not mind her interrupting me.

But there was more within that set of 5 Chumashim…

Before I go into that in my next post, something caught my eye on the frontispiece of the Chumashim.

It is well documented that Jewish women have been involved in the production of Hebrew books almost from the outset of Hebrew printing.

This set of Chumashim comes from Lemberg, not too far from Zolynia in Poland. Lemberg (Lvov) and Zolynia, at the time, were under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and now within the Ukraine. Lvov is the city in which Jewish women printers came to prominence and flourished during the 19th century.

The most famous of all Jewish woman printers was Pesel Balaban in Lemberg in the second half of the nineteenth century. Her husband was Pinchas Moshe and whilst he was alive, Pesel was known to be very active in the business. However, she expanded the press after his death.

Pesel Balaban produced high-quality editions of halakhic texts such as the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law and this set of Chumashim.

I am hoping that one of my readers here at Provenance and a friend from my youthful days, Isaac Balbin may be able to enlighten me on whether or not Pinchas Moshe (the name Pinchas, if I recall correctly, is a name within his immediate family) and Pesel Balaban are related to him.

As with many Jewish names, when written in the Yiddish or Hebrew, they can change once transliterated into the English. I won’t even start on name changes as Jews migrated to various countries.  

Isaac, can you enlighten us at all on the well known Pesel Balaban?

Footsteps

Almost two years ago I was approached by a fellow mixed media artist, Jill Berry to submit a piece of artwork for her upcoming book on art and cartography known as Personal Geographies. Hence I began the process of making one of my mixed media artist books.


 

As all my life-story books do, this book began with research. Combining art and genealogy resulted in my hand-made book “Arnold Does Not Play Here Anymore”. The process began with extensive interviews with my cousin Judith who, as a child, lived in Kiel, Germany.  Interviewing Judith was a difficult experience for it brought up memories of the ravages of war and, in particular, family lost in The Holocaust. The book maps the short life of Arnold, Judith’s adored first cousin, the son of my great uncle, Kalman and his wife Bertha.



Currently in Israel, I am running around the country researching my family history, interviewing those who can still give me first hand accounts of their Holocaust experience and help me piece together elements of the familial genealogy. Jewish genealogy has its challenges and can be almost impossible at times for during WW2, many  Jewish records were destroyed along with our people. Such is the case for the small shtetlach (villages) from which my families originated.


 

 

My first familial engagement here was a Bat-Mitzah where I met cousins familiar and those I had not yet had the opportunity to meet. Amongst the familiar was Judith. At one point Judith explained that her niece had donated an article of Arnold’s clothing to Yad Vashem. She then explained that she was sure she had a pair of his baby shoes at her home somewhere and was intent on finding them in order for us to go together to Yad Vashem and leave them with the outfit already donated.


 

As she said this, my jaw dropped. I said nothing, got up from the table and went to get my lap-top. Before opening the file that I wanted to show her, I asked Judith if she recalled my phone interviews with her some 18 months prior and a few months after I had sat in her home scanning whatever photos of the family she had. Additionally I enquired as to whether she recalled that I was making a piece of art about Arnold’s story. She replied in the affirmative.


 

 

 

Always difficult to describe my mixed media books for each one is unique and takes on differing forms in order to symbolically tell a life story, I showed her my raw images of the piece in progress. 

Now it was time for Judith’s jaw to drop. I had decided to create a book in the forms of shoe soles as part of a semi installation one component of which was the use of an old pair of children’s shoes that I had covered with the map of Kiel - the map’s placement on different parts of the shoes was critical to the telling of the story.

 

Both of us were astonished that not only did I choose to use a pair of children’s shoes for the piece but also to create the book in that form, something I had never done prior and one for which I had to come up with many new techniques to complete.


 

{book in progress}

Judith was not sure where Arnold’s shoes were that her mother had kept but she knew they were in her home somewhere. She had not seen or thought about them for decades. I visited Judith this week.

She found the shoes.

I held them… in the palm of one hand…in silence. 

The provenance of Arnold’s tiny shoes is a story in itself. How did the shoes make it to Israel if Arnold and his parent’s did not? A story for another time.

Is it then also a coincidence that whilst writing this post, I discovered, that this week is also the very same week that Jill’s book has been released? I think not, yet again.



Keeping the memory of Arnold, Kalman and Bertha alive seems to have involved more instances of Bashert (serendipity) and the knowledge that I am indeed on the right path at this moment of my life.

Evidence

For 68 years, my father was seeking the answer to the question, what happened to his mother, sister and brother during The Shoah? What was their final destination? It was assumed that they were either killed in Auschwitz or Treblinka. The pain of not knowing was always present for my father.

{Gitel Wilkenfeld nee Fluss/Wein}

There was no grave.

There was no Yahrzeit date on which to grieve.

I took it upon myself to try and help find the answer but for 6 years I could not find one.

On April 13, 2010, I went to the Yad Vashem site to print out the testimonies for Gitel, Berta and Norbert. To my surprise, there was new information about their deportation which you can read about here.

{Berta & Norbert Nissan Wilkenfeld}

After speaking to Dr Michael Abrams Sprod at length that night of the 13th of April, 2010, I mentioned to him that there was new information available regarding the deportation. We had a very lengthy conversation during which I explained that I had come across new information regarding their possible execution date/s. I explained that with the release of 50 Million documents from Bad Arolson, new information had come to light on those families who were a part of the Magdeburg Deportation. My problem, as I explained to him, was that the online list of families transported to Treblinka on the 23rd July 1942, only showed the A-K list. I frantically wrote to Yad Vashem for more information on the L-Z List, only to be told that it will be online soon. Not good enough, I needed the answer sooner than that for my fathers health was failing. Knowing that Dr Abrams Sprod was the worlds leading authority on the Jews from the Magdeburg area and its vicinity, I realized that if anyone could help me, he would. He agreed to look into it for me.

On April 14, 2010, the next day, I received a phone call from Dr  Abrams Sprod. He asked me if I was sitting down. I was not. I was driving my car, so I stopped. I observed that I had stopped and was looking directly at our synagogue. I knew what was coming and tried to brace myself for the response.

"Everything is timing" he said to me.

"That’s not something you have to explain to me Michael, "Bashert" plays its part in most of my research and work" I responded.

After getting off the phone to me he sent an email off to his researcher in Germany seeking the answer to my question. Within hours the response came back that she happened to be in Yad Vashem’s offices the last few days and had been granted unprecedented access to the Magdeburg Transport List and the fate of the Jews on it. She immediately looked up the list of the thousands of Jews and found the answer I was seeking.

Numbers: 419, 420, 421

My Grandmother, Aunt and Uncle, reduced to numbers.

April 14, 1942 the day they were deported.

April 14, 2010 (Polish time) the day I found out what happened to my family.

April 14, 2010 my twin brother was in Crakow standing in a Synagogue saying Kaddish in proxy for my father.

Coincidence?

I think not.

{Treblinka 2009}

" All of these deportees from Magdeburg and the surrounding area were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto to the extermination camp at Treblinka. On the 22nd July 1942 a message to those in charge of the Warsaw Ghetto was received by those in charge at Treblinka to say that they were ready to receive the transports. On that day, ‘The Great Expulsion” from the Ghetto occurred”.  

On 23 July 1942 my grandmother and her two young children were exterminated at Treblinka.

Knowing that my twin brother Simon was on a bus on route to Auschwitz, I texted him the information that I had just discovered. He was together with close friends of ours, the Rabbi and the Chazan of our Synagogue too. The text messages were flying between us at a rapid rate. He was as shocked as I was to have this new information and a Yahrzeit date for the family. The fact that he was on Polish soil on his way to Auschwitz was poignant and a fact not lost on all those friends on the bus with him, nor was it lost on me. That I was sitting in my car outside our Synagogue when the news came through and the Rabbi was with Simon on the bus was also another link in this amazing chain of events.

I raced home, converted the date 23 July 1942 to the Hebrew Calendar equivalent.

It was the 9th of Av, Tisha B’av.

It is a day that represents martyrdom in our history. It is a fast day second only to Yom Kippur. Jews throughout history have been burnt at the stake on this day for the crime of being Jewish and now thousands of Jewish men, women and children met the same fate.

It was no coincidence that the Nazi’s chose this day. History and records show they chose Jewish Holy Days to do their biggest exterminations on. It is a well known and documented fact.

I spent the next few hours scouring the internet for photos of the Warsaw Ghetto deportations.

Then I saw this:

I thought I could see my grandmother and her daughter. It was an image taken on the same day, the Magdeburg Jews being transported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka that fateful day.

I wrote to the archive, gave them the brief and requested the higher resolution image. It came within a few hours.

It was difficult to know for sure. I could not see little Norbert. The image was quite out of focus.


They looked liked Gitel and Berta.

I could not know for sure.

I stared at the photo for hours.

Then it struck me.

My aunt Pesel, Gitel’s sister survived the war. She had told me a piece of family history a few years ago that came back to me at that very moment whilst staring at the photo.

{Pesel and I Cleveland, 2010. I went to see her and celebrate her 97th Birthday.}

Pesel told me that their mother, my Great Grandmother Leah cut up a shawl into a scarf when each daughter left the shtetl of Pysznica. She wanted them to have a reminder of her. Pesel kept her shawl under the cushion of her beloved Golden Chair. It kept her warm during the years she was escaping from the Nazi’s.

The Golden Chair was a repository, it is where I discovered many answers and photos important to our family history.

Remembering the chair, Pesel’s scarf and my Great Grandmother Leah, I went to my families photo archive on my computer. I have spent years scouring the world, meeting many new relatives in order to piece together our family history.

Initially, I was looking for photos, so it was to the Wein family Archive that I went to look for Leah’s photo for I remembered she was wearing a shawl in that image taken in Pysznica.

{Leah Fluss nee Wein in Pysznica Poland}

And there it was the original shawl.

And there it was, part of the shawl, a scarf now around the neck of the woman and child I believe to be my grandmother Gitel and her daughter, Berta on their way to their deaths. I could see her holding something or someone in her left hand. Was it Norbert? Simon, Dr Abrams Sprod and I examined this image for a long time. It was Simon who saw the shadowy image of Norbert. I found it difficult to see but Dr Abrams Sprod saw it after Simon pointed it out.

I patiently waited a few months for my next trip to the USA and made a special stop to the Archive where this image was held. I was going there to retrieve 83 family photos but that is another story for another time. I found out that this was a still from a movie and there was one more still available to see.

As soon as they showed me the next image, I could see the shadowy image of little Norbert. His mother holding his hand and his legs seen walking next to his mother.

Enough evidence for me that this was them.

Enough evidence for me that this was the last few moments they would spend together as mother and children. This was my grandmother holding the hands of her two beloved children. It is unbearable as a mother of three for me to even contemplate what she must have been feeling at this moment.

I now know after seeking answers about her character from various  sources but in particular, from interviewing the then, last relative alive who could help me find the answers I was seeking, Bernard Goldman Z”L (see previous posts), that she was a good person. Gitel, Bernard told me, was “strong yet gentle, giving of herself to those around her, kind and very lovely”. She, in his words was “full of goodness to other people”, a “Gutte Neshomah”, a good soul.

At the very least, she was together with some of those she loved, holding the hands of her two smallest children during the most testing moment of her life. My heart aches every time I see these photos.

Chasing evidence, chasing history.

My family were now not numbers 419, 420, 421.

My family were Gitel, Berta and Norbert Wilkenfeld.

Zachor.

Connecting Families

I have just spent 2 weeks in Lithuania and following that Paris tracing my mothers side of the family. Those posts will follow soon.

In New York, I am chasing the history of my fathers side, mainly his maternal family, The Wein’s of Pysznica. Many people ask me why I do this. It is hard to respond to such a question and justify this passion of mine to recreate my family’s history, to bring it to life, as it were, and make it relevant for those that ask this question of me.

I recently met some cousins visiting Australia. Yesterday I arrived at the Perlmutter’s lovely home in New York for they learned about my journey and wanted to help. David had documents and photos that would be relevant to my search. So to the attic he and Linda went and today I started my search and the laborious scanning process.

Found were the German and Polish passport and identity books of David’s parents. Each page is scanned for the information within provides me with the necessary information, not only on their vital records but also their travels from one country to another.

Erna, David’s mother was born into our Wein family who originated from from the tiny shtetl of Pysznica in Poland.

I happened to notice that neatly placed inside this Polish passport was an airmail letter.  For the moment, I put the letter aside in order to scan the passport.

Once I had finished that process I decided I had better have a look at the letter just in case it was relevant. Erna’s parents were very close with my grandparents and if you will recall in my last post, A Box Full of History, in which I describe finding the archive of letters of my father and grandfather there were amongst those letters, dozens from Erna’s parents.

It so happened that I was corresponding with a cousin from Australia who was interested in the familial relationship of the Perlmutters. If you go back and read this post you will read about Bernard and Ami Goldman and “connecting the dots” to their family, our family and others related to us. Bernard’s son David had asked me the question regarding how his family were related to the Perlmutters.

The knowledge that our family has been dispersed and fragmented all over the world only makes me work harder in my quest to reconnect with them. The Holocaust, not only annihilated and killed too many family to mention here but it destroyed our family unit, cousins who would have lived their lives together, knowing each other and enjoying the every day happenings, the little things that make up an extended family life. When our families lived in Poland and Germany, they shared each others lives. The fragmentation of our family throughout the world is part of the reasoning behind my mission to rejoin those threads.

So imagine how I felt when I turned to the back of the letter and looked at who the sender was.

It was Ami Goldman, Bernard’s brother and David’s Uncle. Coincidence that earlier today I had answered Davids relationship to the Perlmutters question? I think NOT!

Nothing is by chance.

If you have read my posts or followed my art blog you will know that “Bashert” has come into play for me yet again.

Telling me today, as it has many times before,

that yes,

I am on the correct path!