Announcement: JGS of NY

The next JGSNY meeting will take place on Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 2:00 PM at:

The Center for Jewish History
15 West 16 St., New York, NY 10023
JGS members free; non members $5

Program: The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn; Speaker: Ellen Levitt

Jewish life in areas of Brooklyn through the 1950s was a lively, rich and varied environment. Over the next few decades it dissipated greatly. As Jews moved to other areas, they left behind their synagogues. Ms. Levitt's book is a photographic essay of these ex-shuls; what happened to them, and how they appear today. Each of the 91 featured ex-shuls include a photograph of how it appears today with a narrative that explains the history of the building. A book signing will follow the meeting.
Ellen Levitt is a life-long resident of Brooklyn. In addition to writing two books, she is a NYC public school teacher.

The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at CJH will be open 12:30 to 1:45 PM for networking with other researchers and access to research materials and computers.

Jewish Mother Russia

Never have I heard so many snide comments about an upcoming trip. "Don't bother coming back," said a co-worker, laughing nervously. Birobidzhan has a way of making people laugh. Several of my colleagues were convinced I was joking. The word itself is not inherently funny, but the idea for which it stands is bizarre enough and its history is macabre enough that it makes people giggle. It is also ridiculously far away.

So, where am I? I am just about as far away from my home in Moscow as Moscow is from New York. To get here, I endured an eight-hour Aeroflot flight followed by two and a half hours aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway, finally disembarking less than 50 miles short of the Chinese border at tracks so poorly lit that I had to ask someone where the station was. When I finally found the station, I discovered it has two signs, one in Hebrew letters and one in Russian. The Hebrew faces the tracks, and though it is a fair bet that virtually no one on the Trans-Siberian can read it, it communicates all the necessary information. (I assume it says Birobidzhan, but I can't read it, either.) The Russian faces the town and says "Railroad Station," and this, too, is all anyone needs to know.

This part of Russia is hazy territory, geographically speaking. Have you ever considered where Siberia ends? Any Russian schoolchild knows that it begins at the Ural Mountains, but few have ever considered the other side of Siberia. But that is precisely where I am: on the other side of Siberia, in the Russian Far East, where the Jewish Autonomous Region was declared to exist in 1934.

I am here to write the history of the worst good idea ever. Autonomism was once the rational alternative to Zionism. Whoever came up with the idea of moving Jews to the Middle East, to live on arid land surrounded by hostile Arabs? Jews should live where they are, speak the language they speak, and enjoy the protection of an established military.

Jews never had land in Tsarist Russia. Specially formed committees began prospecting for an appropriate place for Jews almost as soon as the Soviet Union was formed, following the Russian Civil War, in 1922. They tried the Crimea and parts of Ukraine and found them too densely populated for the task of resettling a million or more people. And then they stumbled upon an underpopulated border region in the Far East. According to a prospecting report written in 1927, the area was distinguished by difficult terrain. The mountains, while not especially high, were formed by rocks meeting at such extreme angles that traversing the mountains, even on horseback, was prohibitively difficult. The terrain in the valley was mostly wetland. Life in the valley was made especially difficult by blood-sucking insects of several varieties. The prospecting committee reported that people wore nets and eventually adjusted to the insects, but the cattle suffered terribly. The locals tended toward a nomadic lifestyle, largely because of the difficulty of maintaining pasture. The locals, in any case, were few—mostly Cossacks forcibly exiled here in the 1860s in order to fortify the borders.

That it was. The first train with 600 new settlers from Ukraine and Belarus onboard arrived May 28, 1928. At what was then called Tikhonkaya (Little Quiet) Station, they were met by snow, which would soon be followed by torrential downpours—heavy summer rains were the norm, but this was extraordinary even by Birobidzhan standards. The land they planned to work was flooded for most of that summer, making planting impossible. Cattle were brought in for the new settlers, and an anthrax epidemic ensued. Whoever could manage it scrambled to return home.

Such were the beginnings of the Jewish Autonomous Region, which celebrates its 75th birthday this year.

Click here to read the entire article.

Holocaust survivor finally reunites with man who protected him in Poland

Body language was the only language Joseph Bonder needed to say "thank you" to Bronislaw Firuta, when the two met at JFK International Airport under the bright light of camera flashes in a media room.

More than 60 years ago, Firuta's family hid Bonder and his sister Joan in their dimly lit attic in the remote village of Ostra Mogila in Nazi-occupied Poland.

At 3:22 p.m. Wednesday, Firuta, a Christian, held Bonder, a Jew, in a long embrace.

Firuta, 82, kissed him and then — in his native Polish — said how remarkable it was that they had survived Hitler and Stalin, saying, according to a translator, "Here we are today."

"I'm numb," said the 81-year-old Bonder, seeing for the first time since 1944 the man who saved his life. Bonder called the embrace, "Indescribable. There are no words for it."

Asked if Firuta looked different, Bonder laughed and said he did. "I don't look the same, either," he said.

Firuta exchanged hugs with Bonder's three children and five of his seven grandchildren who attended the reunion. In the European custom, he kissed all the descendants of Bonder, who owe their lives to a man they were meeting for the first time.

This was the first time Firuta visited the United States. He came following twin tragedies in October, when his wife died and his house was destroyed in a fire.

The emotional meeting at the airport Wednesday was arranged by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, an organization that honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II.

The Firuta family allowed Bonder and his sister to sleep in their attic and in their barn, while lying to Nazi soldiers looking to capture and murder Jews.

Bonder recalled spending a cold winter in the Firutas' barn, sleeping next to a cow for warmth, and hiding in hay when soldiers searched for him. (MyCentralJersey)

Click here to read the entire article.

Holocaust survivor to be reunited with Polish rescuer

It has been 64 years since Joseph Bonder and Bronislaw Firuta parted ways in Poland after the end of World War II. Bronislaw and his family risked their lives to save Joseph and his sister, Joan, who escaped from the infamous Skalat Ghetto.

Bronsilaw's family hid Joseph and Joan in their home and later in the woods near their house when it became too dangerous from the fall of 1942 until 1944. On Wednesday, Nov. 25th, a reunion between Bronislaw and Joseph, who now lives in Monroe Township will take place at JFK International Airport in New York.

"I cannot fully express how grateful I am to Bronislaw and his family. They opened their home and their hearts to my sister and I, risking their own lives in order to save me," said Joseph. "Their bravery is what has allowed me to live. I am so thankful to them and The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous for making this extraordinary reunion possible."

Joseph and Joan Bonder were teenagers when they were rescued by the Firutas. In the spring and summertime, they hid in the straw, and in the winter remained hidden in the barn and inside the house. The Firutas provided not only shelter and food, but also friendship and hope

When the situation became too dangerous to remain at the Firuta home, the Bonders would go to the nearby woods. At nighttime, they returned to the Firutas' house where they spent the night and returned to the forest before sunrise. While hiding in the woods, the Bonders met a group of forty-two Jews hiding in bunkers.

The leader of the group was working with the Russian partisans. Both the partisans and the Jewish group needed a carrier to distribute guns. Young Bronislaw took that job and often times Joseph assisted him in smuggling weapons.

In 1944, they were liberated by the Soviet army. Joseph and Joan's parents were killed in the Skalat ghetto and buried in the mass grave outside of town. The rest of the Bonder family — grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins — perished. Thanks to the Firutas and their courage, Joseph and Joan survived. After the war, both Joseph and Joan moved to the United States. Joan passed away in 1992. Joseph lives in New Jersey and Bronislaw lives in Lubin, Poland.

The Holocaust survivor and his rescuer are being reunited by The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous (JFR), which is sponsoring Bronislaw's six-day trip. His son, Stansilaw, will be joining him.

"In the many years we have worked with survivors and their rescuers, I remain awestruck by the heroism of the thousands of rescuers who risked their lives to save Jews. By holding true to their values, these individuals saved Jews from certain death," said JFR Executive Vice President Stanlee Stahl. "We owe a great debt of gratitude to these noble men and women, and through our work, hope to enable them to live the remainder of their lives with dignity and to preserve their stories," she added.

The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was created in 1986 to provide financial assistance to non-Jews who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Today the JFR supports more than 1,000 aged rescuers in 23 countries. (New Jersey News Room)

Click here to read the entire article.

Jews of Charleston

The roots of Charleston, South Carolina’s tightly knit Jewish community go back to the 17th century. Later generations of Jews arrived here from Europe in the 19th century, many of them from Poland. Today’s Charleston, home to about 6,000 Jews, offers a fascinating look at the history of Southern Jewry.

Click here to read the entire article from the Jewish Week.

Success Story

Click here to read how the JewishGen Family Finder helped one researcher connect with her family.

IAJGS website November 2009 update

This is being posted for Daniel Horowitz, IAJGS webmaster by
Meisels Allen

Dear friends,

We have published on our website the November 2009 issue of ECHO (, where Peter
Lande, from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, wrote an article to assist genealogists with their Holocaust research. He explains some of the overlooked
resources at the
USHMM, Yad Vashem and ITS and how they can be accessed and he would be happy to grant you permission to print his article in your newsletters or journals.

Under "Resources" ( you will find the latest revision of the
IAJGS Create a Local JGS Manual and more NEW Organizational Material.

IAJGS Jewish Genealogy Calendar ( now also has general genealogical events in the same calendar, and is getting bigger and better with events from all over the world.

A resume of the Philly Conference with images courtesy of Eugene
Hurwitz has being published.
( Also Chicago conference was updated(

During the
IAJGS 2009 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Philadelphia, IAJGS presented two very successful sessions on: membership/membership retention and
programming. These sessions were developed to help
JGS leaders with management of their society. The power points used in each session are now available on the IAJGS website
in the "Resources" section ( and we encourage you to download and use them in your society.

IAJGS would like to give a warm welcome to the newest board member Nolan Altman, appointed to fill the director-at-large position vacated by Paul Silverstone when he was elected IAJGS treasurer. Nolan currently holds the position of JewishGen's Vice President for Data Acquisition where he focuses on growing the JOWBR and Holocaust databases. He is the treasurer of and a board member of JGS Long Island where he coordinates their Yearbook Project. He is also a member of the JGS of New York. Nolan has spoken at a number of IAJGS conferences and is well-published in many genealogy journals.

Please announce and share all these new releases at your upcoming meeting and your newsletters or journals.

Best regards

Daniel Horowitz
IAJGS Board Member / Webmaster

Steve Morse to Speak at December 6 JGSCV Meeting

Meeting: JGS of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV)--California,
Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Program: "One-Step Webpages: A Hodge Podge of Lesser Known Gems"

This presentation is a sequel to the Potpourri of Genealogical
Search Tools talk Steve Morse gave to JGSCV last December.
You need not have attended the 2008 talk to learn and understand
this year's program! There are too many utilities on the
One-Step website to be covered in a single talk, so many of
them found their way to the cutting room floor when the
Potpourri talk was being edited. However, several of those are
quite useful. This presentation describes those gems that you
might not otherwise be aware of including describing the
range of tools available and give the highlights of each one.
They range from problems with genealogical searches to
problems with identity theft to problems with DNA.

Speaker: Stephen Morse is the creator of the One-Step Website
for which he has received both the Lifetime Achievement Award
and the Outstanding Contribution Award from the International
Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, Award of Merit from
the National Genealogical Society and more. Steve's one-step
program has revolutionized how to do genealogical searches
in large databases!

Everyone is eligible for the drawing of fantastic genealogical prizes
for those who join or renew their JGSCV membership for 2010.
You must be present to win! Light refreshments will be served
celebrating Chanukah and our membership drive.

There will be a schmoozing session starting 15 minutes before the
meeting, facilitated by JGSCV Board member Werner Frank
..come and talk on your successes or problems.

Our rotating traveling library will have Categories A and C.
To see which books are listed under which category, please
go to our website, and look under traveling
library. The books are available starting 30 minutes before
the program to 30 minutes after the program. The meeting
is open to all and there is no charge. The meeting is
co-sponsored with and held at Temple Adat Elohim,
Thousand Oaks, CA

For more information including directions to the meeting,
see our website for directions and more information:

Jan Meisels Allen
President, JGSCV

Mendel Kaplan: A Legacy

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Mendel Kaplan

Mendel Kaplan was a man both forthright and generous and he was known by many as a giant in the Jewish world. He was a billionaire philanthropist who leaves a huge legacy in South Africa where he was born in 1936 and where his Kaplan Centre is an educational landmark and his South African Jewish Museum showcases the community that he loved so well.

His impact doesn’t end there, but continues in Israel where he put his contributions to work in so many varied and constructive ways as with the Jewish Agency and Keren Hayesod. He also touched the land of his forefathers, Lithuania, and the remaining Jewish community there.

The standard he set for so many projects and efforts is remarkable and it is documented, in part, in the many books he wrote in concert with Marian Robertson which provides a vision of the past and prologue to the future. He leaves us with a glimpse of him that is both indelible and past reproach.

In addition to these things, he contributed to many genealogy-related projects which have preserved the heritage of the South Africa Jewish community which was primarily of Litvak origins.

Details of his many contributions can be found in the article about him in Thursday, November 19, 2009, edition of the Jerusalem Post by clicking here.

Baruch Dayan Emes.

1948 Betar Conference in Paris

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Can You Identify These Betar Delegates?
Left to right:
Eli Blankenfeld (later went to Brazil), Moshe Halperin (later went to Israel and became Tsemah Tsemarion), Motel Zandberg, and Zedek/Zadok (last name unknown).

Very often, one’s ancestors were involved in various religious, social or political or youth activities and it is through these activities that more about them can be learned. An example of this is those individuals who participated in the Betar (בית"ר, also spelled Beitar) Revisionist Zionist youth movement which was founded by Vladimir Jabotinsky in Riga, Latvia, in 1923.

By 1940, the Betar movement lost their beloved leader Vladimir Jabotinsky, but continued their activities throughout the war years, especially in Poland where their largest contingent was located. They gathered speed after the end of the war despite the destruction of a good proportion of their membership through the decimation of the Holocaust. A general conference was held in Paris in September, 1948, to bring about some better organization of the European Betar movement.

To put the Conference in perspective, it followed the proclamation of the new State of Israel on May 14, 1948 and the Altalena Affair in June, 1948.

Photos of the attendees have been gathered together by Lea Dror-Batalion, the daughter of the director of the Professional Betar School in Darmstadt, Samuel Milek Batalion. The School was run entirely under the auspices of Betar and helped train Holocaust survivors after the War. Unfortunately, the individuals in these historic photographs are, for the most part, not identified by name. Dror-Batalion has a wonderful site which incorporates all that she has learned about her father and the people he served in Betar. She is hoping that visitors to the site will be able to provide identifications for some of the people in the photographs.

The site is located here.

The following is a photograph of Samuel Milek Batalion during his attendance at the Paris Conference.

Samuel Milek Batalion

The attendees at the conference were mainly Holocaust survivors, many from France and Germany, but others were from places such as the Baltics, who later made aliyah to Israel after their training with Betar. Afterwards, destinations such as America and Latin America received some of these delegates who did not choose to go to Israel.

Delegation on Excursion in Paris

A photo of a group of participants to the conference is shown above on one of their excursions in Paris. A further photograph depicts a plenary session of the conference with all of the delegates in attendance. As can be seen, there were women delegates or attendees in the background as well as the men.

General Meeting of Europe Betar Representatives

It is photographs such as these that enhance what we know of the post-War world and the lives and aspirations of the Jews who survived the Holocaust. Despite the decimation of the old world they knew and loved and the desolation and losses that they had sustained, these survivors continued to search for and dream of a better contemporary world which featured the continued survival of the new State of Israel.

: It would be appreciated that if you recognize any of the individuals in these photographs or those on Lea Dror-Batalion’s sites that you contact the Blog.

Synagogues in Spain

Click here to read the article (with pictures) from the Jewish Press.

Cemetery holds a history of area’s Jewish residents

 It is customary for Jews to create a Jewish cemetery in the communities where they live. Mount Nebo, a small cemetery easy to overlook as you drive by, lies next to the much larger Greenwood Memorial Park along North Government Way on the west side of Spokane; it is the burial site for about 400 Jews.

The approximately 4-acre cemetery can accommodate 1,400 bodies, “but it will probably take us more than 100 years to get to that number,” said Dick Rubens, chair of the cemetery committee at Spokane’s Temple Beth Shalom, which owns Mount Nebo.

Especially for Orthodox and many Conservative Jews, it is not just customary but paramount to establish a Jewish cemetery, Rubens said.

Mount Nebo is actually the second Jewish cemetery established in Spokane, the first one dedicated in 1914 near where the Spokane International Airport is located. It was called Ahalath Israel Cemetery and owned by the Keneseth Israel Congregation. Not utilized very often and with ground not very conducive for burials, the land was sold not long after its dedication.

The current site was purchased from the railroad soon after, and one section was prepared to accept burials. In time, other areas within the grounds have been made ready for the interment of members of the Jewish faith.

Of course, Jews can be buried in other cemeteries, and the reform movement of Judaism is less strict about burial customs. But, Rubens explained, in order to be buried at Mount Nebo, which adheres to more orthodox customs, a person must be Jewish by birth or conversion. Burials must be full-bodied (no cremations) and the bodies ritually prepared (wrapped in a shroud, wearing cloth garments with no zippers or buttons and without being embalmed) and with a casket containing no metal.

Spokane dentist Dr. David Cowen (known for his Peerless Dentists advertisements) did a great deal to improve Mount Nebo. Rubens recalled that toward the end of World War II, Cowen was in poor health and told by his physician to get out into the sun and to exercise, “so on his own, he’d go out there and start cleaning up the grounds, which was just scrub land. He’d figure out what he wanted to do and then go hire day laborers and go with them to pick up rock and clear the land. And he regained his health.”

Cowen, who served in the Legislature from 1935-’65, wanted to honor his mother, Yetta Cohen, who is buried in Oregon, and in 1945 erected a monument for her at Mount Nebo. When he died in 1975, he left a considerable sum to the cemetery, enabling the temple to build a perimeter road around the cemetery, install a sprinkler system, clear out land for burial sites and put in a house for cemetery caretakers.

“He was quite a man,” Rubens recalled. “During the Depression, he accepted produce from farmers for payment and stacked it up outside the Zucor Building so people could come by and take what they needed. He’d also give out tickets to children so they could ride the Carrousel at the old Natatorium Park.”

Perhaps the most moving memorial in the cemetery was erected in memory of the Lassman and Bialogrod families. Eva Lassman, honored in Spokane for her refusal to give in to hate, is a survivor of the Holocaust, as was her husband, Walter “Wolf” Lassman, who died in 1976 and was buried at Mount Nebo. They survived the concentration camps to meet, marry and make a life in Spokane. Because their families did not survive the atrocities, several years after her husband’s death she erected a monument at Mount Nebo listing the names of those lost family members.

The monument stands next to Walter Lassman’s grave.

Visitors to the cemetery might notice pebbles and other objects placed on the gravesite markers. This is tradition: leaving a sign that the grave was visited, that the loved one is not forgotten and that memory lives as long as stone endures.

The name of the cemetery is also steeped in Jewish history. Mount Nebo (also spelled Nevo) is the site outside Israel where it was written that Moses was buried, though exactly where is not known.

As is true with other cemeteries in Spokane, Mount Nebo Cemetery helps tell the story of part of the region’s history, which Jewish settlers and residents have helped form since the 1800s. (

Click here to read the entire article.

Operation Last Chance pays off in Hungary

LA Times editorial from Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's chief Nazi-hunter and director of its Israel office, is the author of "Operation Last Chance: One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice."

The envelope was postmarked Budapest, Aug. 25, 2004, and it arrived in my Jerusalem office about a week later. It contained more than a dozen yellowing pages detailing a decades-old murder in the Hungarian capital.

According to witness statements included with the letter, Peter Balazs, an 18-year-old Jew, was tortured and beaten to death on Nov. 8, 1944, by Hungarian soldiers for not wearing the yellow star that Jews were required to wear. Two participants in the murder were prosecuted and convicted after the war, but according to the witnesses, a third alleged attacker, Karoly Zentai, was never charged.

It was a Nazi-hunter's dream -- a near-perfect package that clearly named the perpetrator, the victim, the crime and its site. I had all the necessary details to begin an investigation.

Click here to read the entire article.

According to newly published diaries, Mussolini wanted to destroy Jews

Diaries of Fascist dictator's longtime mistress were previously unpublished. Click here to read the entire article at MSNBC.

Ex-German SS Member Is Charged Over Massacre of Jews in Austria

A 90-year-old German who allegedly served in an SS tank division during World War II was charged with murdering Jewish slave laborers in Austria.

The man, who wasn’t identified, was accused of conspiring with other members of his division in the March 1945 murders, according to the indictment filed in Duisburg, Germany, by prosecutors, court spokesman Stefan Ulrich said in an e-mailed statement today. The case is known as the massacre at Deutsch Schuetzen, a small town in Austria, Ulrich said.

“The indictment claims that the accused was guided by an extremely hostile and inhumane attitude toward the victims equivalent to the Nazi doctrine,” said Ulrich.

The indictment comes about two weeks before the trial of John Demjanjuk, a suspected Nazi death-camp guard, over the killing of 27,900 people in the Sobibor concentration camp will start in Munich. Germany lifted its statute of limitations for murder in 1979, allowing prosecution of Nazi criminals to continue.

The accused and his accomplices allegedly brought 57 victims into the woods, made them give up their valuables and kneel down before they shot them from behind, prosecutors claim. Another Jew who was too weak to continue to march with a group of slave laborers was also killed, Ulrich said, citing the indictment.

Click here to read the entire article.

Belgian Red Star Line Museum looking for emigrant photographs, memorabilia and stories (1873-1934, Antwerp to New York)

Guest Post by Charlotte Op de Beeck

Between 1873 and 1934 the legendary shipping company Red Star Line transported more than two million passengers to America. Poor European emigrants in search of the American Dream, but also affluent passengers travelling for business or pleasure left for New York. They departed from the Belgian port city of Antwerp, where the Red Star Line warehouses were situated.To this day, those Red Star Line warehouses are preserved. For many passengers they represented the last stop on the European mainland. It was there that, just before their departure, the emigrants travelling in third class underwent a medical examination and were disinfected, while clerks scrutinized their documents.

The Red Star Line buildings are protected monuments. They are part of the communal memory of countless new Americans. They had long been standing empty and were begging for a new purpose. In the spring of 2012 the new Red Star Line Museum | People on the Move will open its doors at this historic location. It will be a place of remembrance, experience, debate and research into international mobility, both past and present. The story of Red Star Line and its passengers will be brought to life once more.

Do you have any old Red Star Line items such as postcards, luggage, diaries or photos? Are there travel stories or objects preserved in the family archive? Maybe you too can contribute to the new museum’s collection. Send an e-mail to or call (+32) 3 206 03 50. Perhaps your family item will find its way into the future museum… All leads are welcome!

More information at

A DNA Success Story

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

The other day, I received a message from FamilyTreeDNA that I had a new mtDNA or maternal match.  The person matched in the basic HVR1 test for maternal ancestry that I had taken.  I thought there might be a chance of a connection and contacted the person, who turned out to be Max Blankfeld, Vice-President of FamilyTreeDNA, which is a partner with JewishGen in genetic research.

Upon discussing our families, we could not find a definite connection at all as there was no common last name and no common shtetl or country.  His maternal family (Kuper and Neuman) came from Pinsk and Lakhva, Belarus, and mine (Oxenberg and Schubert) from Boryslaw and Drohobycz, Ukraine, but we agree to keep looking.  Perhaps the connection was further back than we had records for.

It is always difficult to document one’s female ancestor’s as very often there are no records or family history, especially of maiden names.  This was certainly the case of my great great grandmother Gitlia Schubert whose maiden name was unknown.

In passing, I mentioned to Max that I was familiar with his paternal Blankfield name from South Africa and he acknowledged that he had family there.  He said that finding them was his DNA success story.  I always love success stories, so asked for Max’s story which he provided from an interview he gave to Blaine Bettinger, the author of “The Genetic Genealogist”, a blog founded in 2007.

I certainly did test, in 2000, and while the results did not surprise me, it helped find and confirm distant relationships, and also gave me very close matches with people that I was not aware of.

So here’s my DNA break through: in 1983, when I was still in Brazil, our family received a letter from a Blankfield living in Australia, where he gave us some of his genealogy and asked if we could possibly be related. The problem was that my father passed away in 1981, and never discussed very much his family with me because he was a Holocaust survivor, and both parents and sisters were murdered by the Nazis in 1942. So, I didn’t have any facts to check against that letter. I kept the letter in the drawer.

Fast forward to the year 2000, and the start of genetic genealogy. I start looking for Blank(en)f(i)elds to be test. Saul Issroff, an avid genealogist from England tells me that he’s related to some Blankfields in South Africa, and gives me the name of a female Blankfield. She convinces her father to be tested. High expectations. Results come in and bingo - very close match. I ask for their family tree and guess what - that man from Australia is in that tree! We put together both trees, and it looks like we shared the same great-great-great-great-grandfather! (I must say that I had a previous attempt with another Blankfield that did not show a relationship).

(Eli Blankenfeld, between his sisters, 2nd from right, top row, his father Motel Blankenfeld, 4th from right, second from top row, his mother to left of father)

After relating this story to me, Max further stated that the man in Australia had passed away since then and that his son Mark had later contacted him, but he had lost his information.  He certainly wanted to be in contact with Mark again.  Given this, I decided to check out several resources and see if I could locate the missing Mark. 

  • JewishGen Family Finder - First, I checked out the JewishGen Family Finder and noted that there were numerous researchers looking for Max’s last name or its variants, but neither Max nor Mark were registered as being amongst them.  This is a further incentive for those of you who have not signed up with the JewishGen Family Finder to do so.
  • Facebook - Subsequently, I looked on Facebook and, again, no Mark appeared, but a number of individuals did exist with the same last name.  Evidently, they were not genealogists as they had not been listed in the JewishGen Family Finder.
  • Google - The next step was to check out the Internet and I Googled Mark’s name and found a Mark in several references along with his wife Hilary, but with no contact information.
  • Skype - Thereupon, I used Skype to make free calls to friends and relatives in Australia, who were formerly from South Africa, to see if they knew Mark.  One of my relatives told me that there was no one in Sydney, Australia, with that last name and that Mark must live in one of the other major towns where South Africans had settled such as Melbourne, Perth, or Adelaide, for instance. 
  • Australian White Pages - Given that, I also made use of the Australian White Pages which provides residential, commercial and governmental phone listings and postcodes in Australia.There I found fourteen listings for Max’s last name and its variants, all with only first initials of the first name.  As I knew that I was looking for a Mark and possibly a Hilary, I carefully searched these listings.  Success!  There was an M & H listed in Melbourne.   
Hoping that they would uncover additional relatives, I gave Max the links to the individuals I had found who were searching their family names.  They will now have further means of locating their relatives and getting them DNA-tested as well to ensure that they are actually related and aren’t just individuals with the same last name.

This is where DNA can be quite helpful as there may be cases in the past where families had the same common Jewish family name, or took on different names for various reasons such as changing their names when marrying, shortening their names from something else, or changing their names because of possible military conscription.  All of these things can make locating relatives quite complicated.

And so ends this particular DNA success story, for the moment.  It took not only getting tested to obtain results, but some good old-fashioned genealogical sleuthing too to make it all happen.  Remember that the next time you have an inkling to find your ancestors and their descendants via DNA.

NOTE: Please keep reading the Blog for DNA-related success stories which will be forthcoming on a regular basis in the very near future. 

ShtetLinks Update: October 2009

We are pleased to welcome the following web pages to JewishGen ShtetLinks.
We thank the owners and webmasters of these shtetlpages for creating fitting
memorials to the Jewish Communities that once lived in those shtetlach and
for providing a valuable resource for future generations of their descendants.

Grimaylov (Grzymalow, Hrymajiliv), Ukraine
Created by Susana Leistner Bloch
Webmaster: Edward Rosenbaum

Homyel (Gomel, Homl), Belarus
Created by Paul Zoglin

Pila (Schneidemuhl), Poland
Created by Peter Cullman

Poruba pod Vihorlatom (Nemetvagas), Slovakia
Created by Marshall J. Katz

Strabychovo (Sztrabicso, Strabichevo), Ukraine
Compiled by Amos Israel Zezmer
Created / Webpage Design by Marshall J. Katz

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A Wartime Experience

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

Eli Blankenfeld, Latvian Army, 1943
(drawn from life by colleague)

In a prior piece on the Blog which was entitled “There Were Actually Jewish Soldiers in the Russian Empire,” I discussed Jewish military participation during the period prior to World War II. Now, I am moving forward to the period of World War II and after.

The following topics will focus on new resources for family military research.


There are many stories of wartime experiences by those who joined or were inducted into the armies of the Allies during World War II. In this regard, Dorothy Leiver’s recently published a book, “Road to Victory, Jewish Soldiers of the 16th Lithuanian Division, 1942-1945”, which is a compilation of testimonies given by the soldiers themselves.

Originally, the contents of the book were published in Yiddish then Hebrew. The new English edition is a valuable contribution to researchers on this subject and other genealogical-related topics as it reaches a wider audience. The book is a remarkable resource for those researching their Lithuanian families and those who participated in the War as 2,500 individuals are mentioned in the book along with approximately 1,215 soldiers who died and are memorialized.

In fact, there are many things one can learn from the book’s data. I had been doing research on the records of the medical personnel from the Bikur Cholim Hospital in Kaunas, Lithuania, and Dorothy Leivers had pointed out that a number of the staff, whose names I had, were in her listings of those who had joined the Army. I did further research on this and found that some had survived their service and some had not. Many had performed bravely under fire and were outstanding members of their units and had won many military medals

Dr. Chackelis Kibarskis

The photograph above is of Dr. Chackelis Kibarskis, born in 1903, who is found in the book. He was an outstanding doctor at the Bikur Cholim hospital in Kaunas, Lithuania, as well as a remarkable soldier-doctor during the war. Later, he became a leading cardiologist and gave the first electrocardiograph tests in Lithuania.


Another military-related book which identifies 4,879 Polish-Jewish officers who fought against the Nazis was published by Benjamin Meirtchak under the title “Jews-Officers in the Polish Armed Forces 1939-1945”. Over 200,000 Polish Jews fought against Nazi Germany both in Poland and in exile. This book discusses these individuals who heretofore were not previously documented in English.

Benjamin Meirtchak
Tel Aviv, 1999

The author, born in 1917, was the son of Moshe and Rachel Meirtchak of Wloclawek, Poland, and held the office of Chairman of the Association of Jewish War Veterans of Polish Armies in Israel as well as the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Association of Disable Veterans of the Fight against Nazism in Israel and General Secretary of the Association of Polish Jews in Israel. He certainly knew what he was researching and later writing about.


A further military resource I found was the Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc.(NY)'s site which contained a database entitled: "Memorial Database of Jewish Soldiers, Partisans and Workers Killed in Action During Nazism: A Searchable Database of Jews in the Russian Army Killed and Missing in Action during the war (1941 - 1945)."

The database is a compilation from a number of various sources by Alexander Zaslavsky and is available in English on the site. It will eventually have over 100,000 names, although there are approximately 205,000 names which have to be translated into English. Zaslavsky’s own site which is in Russian can be found here.

Some examples of what one can find in Zaslavsky’s database on the JGS(NY) site are the following military deaths:

  • BLANKENFELD, Mikhail, Source kplat, Birth/Death 1918-1941.
  • BLANKFELD, Isaj Fedorovich, Source: tsamo, on 818883s, d.1142,1.1180, Birth/Death 1919-1942

In addition to the above resources, there are the personal stories which were handed down by the surviving participants to their families. As one can see, there were two individuals in the above Memorial Database who were soldiers with a similar family name and its variant who were killed in battle. However, there was a participant with this name who not only served in the military, but survived to tell the tale.

The survivor was Eli Blankenfeld who later became Blankfeld when he moved to Sao Paolo, Brazil, after the War. According to his family, Eli Blankenfeld, was a soldier in the Latvian Division of the Russian Army. More than 1,000 Jews were to be found in the 201st (43rd Guard) and 304th and they served honorably and well.

Eli Blankenfeld After World War II in Riga, Latvia

An outstanding and brave solider, Eli Blankenfeld can be seen in this picture with one of the three medals he earned in the Russian Army. He was the recipient of the Red Star, the Victory Over the Nazi Regime medal and the Medal For Courage. A book about Eli’s exploits will be forthcoming next year which will be published by his son Max.

After the war, Eli was released from active duty and became Secretary of the Department of Prisoners of War in Riga. In this position, he was allowed to grant "mobility permits", and he clandestinely used them as a member of the Bricha, to smuggle Jews out of the Soviet Union to freedom in the West. He was an active participant in the Betar movement whose 1948 Paris Conference he attended.

See more on the Bricha on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum site. Another resource which discusses the role Betar played in the Bricha is to be found in the book: “Escape through Austria: Jewish refugees and the Austrian route to Palestine”, by Thomas Albrich, Ronald W. Zweig


An additional resource is for those Germans of Jewish descent who were called Mishlinge, or half-Jews, and who fought with the German military machine during World War II. These soldiers were thought to be as many as 150,000 in number and many reached high rank in the German war machine. The following book gives a revealing panorama of their participation in the war: “Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers: The Untold Story of Nazi Racial Laws and Men of Jewish Descent in the German Military” by Bryan Mark Rigg.

Side and front photographs of "half-Jew" Anton Mayer, similar to those that often accompanied a Mischling's application for exemption.

The book is based on four hundred interviews with soldiers and their families in addition to substantial archival research. It is a fascinating look at the Jewish participation in the other side of the war.

As an aside, there is also a site devoted to the German Jews who fell in the prior World War I which has a searchable database. It is called “Die Judischen Gefallenen” and is located here. It is particularly of interest to those whose families were in areas held by Germany, but which were nonetheless actually previously or later either Lithuanian or Polish, etc. An example is the soldier Walter Heymann, born May 19, 1882, in Koenigsberg, killed January 8/9, 1915.


The topic of military participation by Jews is a large and ever-expanding one as new information is published. The above resources are only the tip of what is available and cover only a few areas which may exist. Genealogists should search the Internet for further resources which may be found under military topics and/or veterans groups.

New Yizkor Book Translation Project

Kovel, now part of the Ukraine, obtained its city rights in 1518 when it was part of the Duchy Of Lithuania. It became a key Jewish population center in the district of Volhynia, and over the centuries, passed variously among Poland and Russia before being occupied by the Germans in World War 2 and the Soviets after the defeat of the Nazis.

In doing extensive research into the city's history, which can be found here, there were gaps for certain periods that I hope can be filled in by chapters in the Pinkas, some of which I have already identified through the copy online at the New York Public Library.

There are two editions of the book. One was published in 1951 in Argentina and the lists of the deceased have been translated and are online at JewishGen. The edition which I want to have translated was published in Tel Aviv in 1957 and edited by Eliezer Leoni-Zopperfin.

This project will support the services of a professional translator to translate the full book of Hebrew text. Translation will begin with the table of contents and figure captions, and then will proceed with the chapters of the book.

To learn more, please click here.

A Holocaust Geographic “How to” for Genealogists (Part 2 of 2)

In this two-part series, Peter Landé highlights three major geographic online Holocaust focused sources, which will be helpful in leading the researcher to extremely valuable sources of information.

This is part 2 of 2. (Click here to read Part 1).

Yad Vashem: Shoah-Related Lists Database
Click here to reach Yad Vashem’s Shoah-Related Lists Database. Somewhat different from the USHMM list, the material is organized by the current name of the locality, but you will get there even if you type in the old name (for example, Breslau will take you to Wroclaw). 

Whether you type in Nürnberg, Nuremberg or Nuernberg you will end up with the same information. As is the case with the USHMM finding aid, one can search by name of camp, e.g. Flossenbürg. There is provision to comment on/add to existing listings.

As is the case with USHMM, Yad Vashem includes references both to its own holdings and those of other institutions. Yad Vashem offers a unique advantage in that in many cases when one clicks a document reference the actual text appears. As is the case for the USHMM, the fact that a document/source has been identified does not mean that any or all of the names in the relevant documents have been added to the Hall of Names/Name Search. 

There is also a significant difference in that the Hall of Names is intended to identify Jews who perished in the Holocaust, while Name Search lists all those who perished or survived, regardless of religion. The Yad Vashem approach has the disadvantage that if a list/individual listing does not indicate religion, the names are not included.

International Tracing Service (ITS) Inventar 

ITS holdings of documents are undoubtedly larger than those of the USHMM or Yad Vashem and the number of unique persons identified in the documents held there are far more numerous. The ITS estimates that it has roughly 50 million name citations, identifying about 17 million persons, Jews and non-Jews, survivors and victims. For reasons which would take too long to describe here, one can generalize that the collection is rich in Western European and postwar documents, but weak in Eastern European holdings.

The Inventar (inventory or finding aid) is much less useful than those of either the USHMM or Yad Vashem. The purpose of the ITS throughout its history was never to collect the history of the Holocaust but rather to identify the fate of all those who had perished or survived. As a result, the ITS until recently did not have a historian or archivist, but rather simply collected documents in order to extract the names which appeared in them. Accordingly, the description of the documents was primitive. In addition to its home location in Bad Arolsen, Germany, copies of this massive collection are being shared with the USHMM, Yad Vashem, the Institute of National Memory in Warsaw, the National Archives of Belgium and the Centre de Documentation et de Recherche sur la Résistance in Luxembourg. The transfer process is gradual and may not be completed until 2011.

The Inventar can be accessed either through the ITS website, by clicking hereclicking here. Originally in German, thanks to the efforts of the USHMM, it is now also available in English. A fundamental difference exists when entering location searches in the Inventar. When one types in the name of a locality (not possible on a country level) all Inventar descriptions where that place name has been entered appear.  or through the USHMM website by

There is no linkage between different spellings of a town’s name so that, for example, there are 237 “hits” for Warsaw and 429 for Warschau, and 75 “hits” for Cologne and 104 for Köln and no way to meld these different sources. Moreover, if a place name appears anywhere in the description; i.e. if a book about Warsaw was published in or was acquired from Berlin, it is indexed under both place names. 

The information in each citation is limited, usually consisting of a very brief description, the number of pages in the document and number of names which are included. There is, of course, also a reference citation but no visible link to the document itself. The names which were extracted from these sources have been collected in various databases such as the Central Names Index but, at this time, neither the documents nor the names are available on the web. (Speaking from personal experience I must stress that these databases are extremely complex, or even convoluted, and locating an individual name often requires expert help.) If one finds any citation which might be of interest, one would have to visit one of the institutions where the material is held or write to these institutions and request copies, without knowing whether they are of real interest.

Unfortunately, there has been considerable confusion as to the “rules” governing access to ITS material. Under the international agreement which “opened” ITS and made copies available to a single institution in each member country, there are neither restrictions on third party access to ITS documents at these institutions nor limitations on how a researcher may utilize copies of such material he/she has acquired.

Finally, the above is not an attempt to rank the three sources. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages and a patient researcher should examine all three. It is my hope that the above information will prove useful for all researchers.

About Peter Landé
Peter Landé was born in Germany of German parents but came to the United States as a young child. He studied at Haverford College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He also spent a year at Hamburg University under a Fulbright grant.

Mr. Landé joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1956. He served in diplomatic and consular positions in New Zealand, India, Japan, Egypt, Germany and Canada as well as in senior positions in the Department of State. He retired as United States Economic Minister in Cairo in 1988.

Since his retirement, Mr. Landé has been active in genealogy research, writing and lecturing, with special emphasis on Holocaust records. He has traveled widely in Europe collecting lists of victims and survivors and speaking to various groups. He has also written numerous articles identifying sources of information for Holocaust name lists in North America, Europe and Israel, which are available to researchers.

As a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) he has been involved in a major project to identify and collect in a single computerized database the names of all Holocaust victims and survivors, whether Jewish or non-Jewish (currently about 3 million names), as well as to develop a "list of lists", i.e. an inventory of thousands of sources of information which include the names of Holocaust victims and survivors. This list serves both as a guide to later efforts to digitize names and as a reference tool to assist USHMM personnel to reply to inquiries.

Mr. Landé has also been active in the work of Jewishgen, which has its own on-line Holocaust database, currently with over 2 million records.

In July 2001 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies for his work in identifying sources of information on Holocaust victims and survivors.

November 9th

Click here to read about Dr. David G. Marwell's (Director of the Museum) experience during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Click here to read an account of the three fateful events that occurred on November 9th before 1989.

On Kristallnacht Anniversary, 16th century Hebrew Bible looted by Nazis returned to Vienna Jewish Community

From the ICE Press Release
A 16th century two-volume Bomberg/Pratensis Rabbinic Bible is back in the hands of its rightful owners 71 years after it was stolen by the Nazis. Today, at the Museum of Jewish Heritage - A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York returned the Bible to Vienna's Jewish community, known as Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien (IKG).

The Rabbinic Bible, published between 1516 and1517, is a manuscript that includes an Aramaic summary and a series of commentaries by key medieval rabbinic figures including 11th century French scholar Rashi, late 12th/early 13th century Provencal scholar David Kimche, 13th century Spanish scholar Nachmanides and 14th century French scholar Gersonides.

The New York City auction house Kestenbaum & Company had offered for sale in its June 25, 2009, auction catalogue, an item described as a "Bible: Venice. Bomberg, 1516-1517." An ICE investigation determined that the ancient Bible described in the catalog was actually part of the library and property of IKG. The Bible was illegally imported into the United States on March 19, 2009. Once agents provided Kestenbaum proof of the Bible's provenance and prior ownership, the auction house immediately agreed to withdraw the Bible from auction and return it to its owners.

Click here to read the entire press release.

Update: Click here to read more about this event at Dr. David G. Marwell's blog.

A Holocaust Geographic “How to” for Genealogists (Part 1 of 2)

Special Guest Post by Peter Landé
(full bio at the bottom of this article).

Genealogists searching for Holocaust information are accustomed to searching databases for family names of interest. They consult data provided by the many genealogical Special Interest Groups such as JRI Poland, and of course, they may also search libraries for locality specific sources such as Yizkor books or general histories of a community. They can utilize useful online sources such as,, etc. However, with the exception of JewishGen’s Holocaust Database, which can be searched by town, none focus solely on Holocaust data.

What I find, however, is that few researchers are aware of three major geographic online Holocaust focused sources, which, in themselves, do not yield family names, but rather lead the researcher to extremely valuable sources of information.

I refer to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) Name List Catalog, Yad Vashem’s Shoah-Related Lists Database and the International Tracing Service’s (ITS) Inventory Search or “Inventar”. Each is described below.

USHMM: Name List Catalog

This is the Holocaust Museum’s ongoing attempt to identify and describe all sources of information containing Holocaust related name lists, whether in book, memoir, archival file, internet resource or any other format, even if the resource is not held at the Museum. '

To visit the catalog, please click here.

You can search by country, or even by name of author of relevant books, though I would not recommend either since such searches would be too broad. If you enter the name of a town and click the box just below the search field you will get information regardless of how the locality was filed (e.g. Kovno, Kaunas, Kovne or Kauen).

To take another example, if you type in Warsaw you will get 322 entries, Warschau 30 entries, and Warszawa 585 entries, but if you check the box you will be able to identify all the sources of information, regardless of spelling.

What you will NOT find are names themselves. What you will find is a notation by each entry such as NL = Name List, which indicates that the names in that source are included in the Museum’s Name Search Catalog, CC = (Claims Conference) which means that the source was identified by Claims Conference restitution claims researchers or YV which means that the list is held at Yad Vashem.

The extent of the information on each source varies considerably, but, while all identify sources of information on names, none includes the name lists themselves. The Survivors Registry at the USHMM welcomes additions/corrections/comments to the information contained in this source.

While not directly relevant, it may be useful to clarify Name Search at the USHMM. This is similar but also very different from the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem. It includes both victims and survivors and Jews and non-Jews. While there are currently 5,967,092 name entries taken from 378 different sources in this database, this figure is misleading, since an individual’s name may appear in several documents and there is no attempt to link the listings. Therefore, there is no way of knowing how many persons are identified in this database.

Finally, and unfortunately, unlike the Hall of Names, the USHMM public version of Name Search, (which can be accessed by clicking here, contains only a tenth of the number of names contained in the version used at the museum to answer inquiries. This is true since, in many cases, the providers/institutions from which the bulk of the information came insist that it not be made available on the web.

About Peter Landé
Peter Landé was born in Germany of German parents but came to the United States as a young child. He studied at Haverford College and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He also spent a year at Hamburg University under a Fulbright grant.

Mr. Landé joined the Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in 1956. He served in diplomatic and consular positions in New Zealand, India, Japan, Egypt, Germany and Canada as well as in senior positions in the Department of State. He retired as United States Economic Minister in Cairo in 1988.

Since his retirement, Mr. Landé has been active in genealogy research, writing and lecturing, with special emphasis on Holocaust records. He has traveled widely in Europe collecting lists of victims and survivors and speaking to various groups. He has also written numerous articles identifying sources of information for Holocaust name lists in North America, Europe and Israel, which are available to researchers.

As a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) he has been involved in a major project to identify and collect in a single computerized database the names of all Holocaust victims and survivors, whether Jewish or non-Jewish (currently about 3 million names), as well as to develop a "list of lists", i.e. an inventory of thousands of sources of information which include the names of Holocaust victims and survivors. This list serves both as a guide to later efforts to digitize names and as a reference tool to assist USHMM personnel to reply to inquiries.

Mr. Landé has also been active in the work of Jewishgen, which has its own on-line Holocaust database, currently with over 2 million records.

In July 2001 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies for his work in identifying sources of information on Holocaust victims and survivors.