Saturday, June 12, 2021

Roots

I found some such small postcards in a family document box that my brother gave me after my father passed away. They were written in 1940 by my grandmother's sister and sent from the small village in what was then Poland and today it is Belarus.

My grandmother immigrated here with her husband and my father who was two years old in 1927. She was a dentist, studied dentistry in Warsaw in the years when women were barely admitted to universities and continued to be brave and special in the years that followed.

She passed away when I was 16 and I had never heard of her sisters staying there. A year after these postcards were written the sisters, (apparently there were five sisters with families and small children), were no more alive. The small villages from which these postcards were sent were burned and destroyed with all the families who were there.

The postcards were written in Hebrew letters and the language is Yiddish. I learned German from my second grandmother so I could understand a little of what was written.

I wanted to know more and asked for help in one of the wonderful Facebook groups where there are people from all over the world who help translate everything in any language. An amazing guy from Belarus, who knows Yiddish even though he is not Jewish, translated the postcards for me.

Unfortunately the sisters from Belarus do not tell a story, they write in every letter that there is no need to worry about them, they are fine and have enough food and clothes. They do not tell of the difficult situation they had probably already been exposed to because a year later none of them had survive

But it gives me a tip of the iceberg, I have names of people, names of small villages, most of which no longer exist because most of their population was Jewish and they were burned and destroyed.

I keep researching and looking for who these people were that I knew nothing about but they will always remain a part of my family heritage. Unfortunately, there is no one to ask.

I think there is a deep and understandable connection to the fact that all my genealogical searches and that of so many people I see that started precisely in the year of the virus that has been here and all over the world, it is not just the free time that everyone suddenly had. It's something deeper related to existential anxiety, to the feeling that everything is so fragile and temporary. Family roots are something that binds you and gives you a sense of belonging, and in times of existential anxiety it may be the place to escape. Even if your family history is not the happiest thing in the world.

 

33 comments:

  1. I also forgot to write that my grandmother served four years in the British Army during World War II, (also my father and his younger brother). They were in the Jewish Brigade.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this part of your family history Yael. I have learnt so much about the Jewish history of Belarus from you today and from Hels on her Art and Architecture blog a few days ago, more than I ever knew before. It is a terrible history and must never been forgotten. Thank goodness there are those like yourself and Hels who are sharing it. I agree that family roots are important and give meaning to life and belonging however tragic they are.

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    1. Thank you Rachel. I started reading Hels' blog and it is indeed very interesting.

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  3. That is wonderful and deeply sad at the same time.

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    1. And there is so much more to tell, I was afraid it did not interest many people today.

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    2. I think it interests everyone with any empathy.

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  4. I warmly agree that family roots are something that binds all the cousins with a sense of belonging, especially if it was a place to escape! My family came to Australia well before WW2 from Russia (now Ukraine) and all survived. My parents in law, on the other hand, were the sole survivors of their respectively families in Czechoslovakia and so my husband has no family history whatsoever.

    Last week I wrote a history of Belarus in my blog and it attracted a quarter of the number of readers I normally get. Are people not interested?

    Be healthy
    Hels
    https://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2021/06/history-of-belarus-until-1995.html

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  5. I started reading your blog because of the wonderful Rachel and I am so glad I found it. I have found that people are very careful about the painful past of such and such groups, perhaps it is an unnecessary emotional burden for them.

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  6. Hello Yael. I have found you through Rachel’s blog and you have a new follower in Australia! Thank you for writing and for what you share about your life and family. It is so sad that we cannot all live in peace and safety. Most of us are just humans trying to make our way through our lives the best way we can, with kindness and respect for other people. It is such a pity that there are others in this world who cannot see it in their hearts to do the same. The quest for power is so destructive. Warm wishes and stay safe. Jen.

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    1. Welcome Jen and thank you for the warm and wise words.

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  7. "... Family roots are something that binds you and gives you a sense of belonging, and in times of existential anxiety it may be the place to escape. Even if your family history is not the happiest thing in the world ..."

    Thank you for writing down this part of your family's story and for the image of the postcard. It was a nearly lifelong friend I've known since we went to college together in the late 1960s who is Jewish and whose ancestors came from a village in Belarus who encouraged me to look into my own roots. Two of my ways of dealing with anxiety this year have been genealogy searches and learning to speak Spanish through Duolingo. Duolingo has recently added Yiddish to its list of free language study programs. The grandmother of another of my Jewish friends spoke Ladino. Her grandmother lived to her 90s. One of her sayings translated from Ladino was "one more year, one more brain." Sending love to you and your family.

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  8. Thank you am. There is so much more to tell. Jewish family history has always been very dramatic, unfortunately.

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  9. I've clicked across from Rachel's blog. Those cards are precious and meant so much to have been saved. My wife's family has Jewish roots too, in early nineteenth century London, and in researching them we came across tales of the terrible discrimination they suffered.

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  10. Indeed every family has its own special story, it is good to have someone who preserves the family history.

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  11. How lucky you are to have these postcards and learn just a little more of the family history. I can imagine how much has been lost, so many people killed. This is very special for you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  12. I'm trying to find more details about the family and have not been able to until now.

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  13. Hello, Yael,
    I came here for the first time from Joanne's blog Cup on the Bus. I wouldn't normally comment right away, as a stranger, but the postcards struck me.
    Indeed "everything is so fragile and temporary."

    I'd recently read Amos Oz's autobiography, A Tale of Love and Darkness, and as you may know, he also writes about family who stayed and wrote to relatives in Israel about their lives in Ukraine and Poland, etc.

    It's really terrible how they had written that they thought the Germans would help keep order and stop the disorder of anti-Semitism...
    And then none of them survived.
    It is so tragic and terrible, I am grieved.

    The kindness of the guy in Belarus to translate the postcards--this sort of little connection is so comforting.

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    1. P.S. Forgive me--I wrote that without any context:
      I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, I'm not Jewish, and reading Oz's account was new to me.
      I expect the experience of your relatives is not uncommon, and Oz is far from the only Israeli who shares it!
      Here, there is a new awareness ("new" on the part of white people) of state brutality toward Black and other "inconvenient" people. Scary.

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    2. Thank you Fresca for your comments.I read Amos Oz's books but I did not remember the passage you told about here, I will look for it in the book I have here at home. Unfortunately so many families have experienced this painful experience and it is important to tell about it.

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  14. Yael, your Grandmother sounds like such a wise, strong and brave woman. Thank you for sharing this translation and a little about your family. There is so much important history that needs to be preserved. George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it". I believe that is very important. I am sorry your family and so many others have suffered so much. It is a wonderful thing you are doing in preserving what you can of your family's past. You say you have the "tip of the iceberg". Sometimes that is enough to lead you to more information. Some of those names of people could lead you to family members that were able to leave just as your Grandmother left. Even if you do not discover more, you can pass down what information you do have available. Just as today it is so much easier to research our genealogy using the internet, in the future it may be even easier.

    Thank you again for sharing this. I appreciate the importance of this information.

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    1. Indeed there are many sources of information on the Internet and I continue my searches. I still have not found anything related to these family members.

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  15. A few postcards send you on a voyage of discovery, even though the information was general. It does open our hearts and minds to our past, but what is so poingant is that there is little to follow up. Such a sadness, yet such a blessing that you have found an insight into the lives of these close relatives.
    Families do matter; they are who we are.

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    1. You're so right Shirley. There's something that connects me to these people even if I did not know them and did not know about them until recently.

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  16. Yael, the world is so small. One would think it is small enough we would know to treat our neighbor as ourselves. One of my sister's in law was born in England, as her parents fled Czechoslovakia. Amazingly she was born in the same hospital as the woman my other brother married.
    And my daughter acquired a mother in law who is the Ruth of whom I write. Ruth was a little child when the Germans took her village in Lithuania and marched everyone to Germany as slave labor on farms. Her grandmother was left to die because she could not keep up. One of the guards took pity and shot her. Ruth explained her family to me. Gone, all gone.
    I hope you are able to use the translated information to learn more of your heritage.

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    1. I agree with you Joanne that the world is very small. You can always find more threads that connect us to so many people we know. Ruth's story is touching.

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  17. It is a terrible thing that certain groups of humans are targeted by other groups simply because of where they come from, or what they believe. It is a great stain on humanity that this still goes on. There is still anti-Semitism in UK politics, and even in Football clubs. I find it totally disgraceful. You must be very proud to have those postcards, even if they are very sad reminders of brutal times. I consider myself very fortunate that my family have never experienced such things, which is probably why I now feel so outraged that it continues, and one can do nothing about it.

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  18. My daughter was now in Los Angeles for a week and was banned from wearing or carrying anything that could indicate that she is Israeli or Jew.It was about work. In private matters I guess everyone does as they please but that tells the whole story.

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  19. Family roots mean a lot and you have a rich and important history. Our roots make us the people we are today. Personally, my belief is: You and I are here and we belong here. Be assured, there is no question. When I worked in Corporate America, depending on the circumstance, I withheld things simply because I did not want people to judge me. Sadly there is lots of bias in the world. This is not an excuse, just fact.

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