Provenance

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.

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