Escaping Poland Before the Holocaust

“He never spoke about it,” my grandfather told me on a car ride home from Vassar College in October of 2013. He was talking about his father, Irving, and his escape from Poland just before the Holocaust. He, his brother and sister all escaped before the atrocity claimed the lives of their parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, who I had just learned were victims. Growing up, I learned about the Holocaust in Hebrew school and grade school history classes beginning at age eleven, yet this was the first time I had any knowledge that my family was directly affected by it. The topic only came up because I was taking a German history class at time and brought up what I was learning about in the very long, traffic-filled ride home that Fall. Learning that my family was directly affected by the Holocaust at age nineteen was troubling to me, because like many Jewish parents, mine had always told me to remember the Holocaust and make sure that my future children remember it too. I grew up with the Holocaust as a part of my culture. In my town on Long Island with a sizable population of Jews, the Holocaust was acknowledged and learned about in school. I had to wonder, why have I just found out about this familial connection to the tragedy? Did anyone else on my great grandfather’s side of the family know anything more? Who even comprises that side of the family? It was then that I realized just how little I actually knew about my family. This sparked an interest in my own genealogy—an interest that eventually lead me here—to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society as summer intern. The goal for my individual research: simply to find more out about my great grandfather Irving’s side of the family. Maybe if I was lucky, I’d be able to find out exactly what happened to his family back in Poland, and if there are any living relatives I don’t know about. As previously mentioned, Irving was silent on the subject of his family back in Poland so my grandfather, his son, knows very little about it. I had a few details to go on, and began my search.

Most of my research thus far has been online, on FindMyPast.com, FamilySearch.com, Ancestry.com, and even just plain old Google.com. I have also been speaking to my grandfather a lot on the subject, pressing him for any detail he can muster up. In a few short weeks with a few short details, I have already found more information online than I expected. The internet is truly an incredible place. With the information my grandfather provided me, I was able to find death, marriage, and census records for my great grandfather and his two siblings: a brother, Jacob and sister, Rose. I continued building my family tree with the last set of names my grandfather could remember on that side, Abraham and Ruth, his aunt Rose’s kids. I realized—I hoped—they must have kids, and those kids might have kids that might be around my age. Suddenly I had living family members I’d never known existed. I had to find them. I did—and they live just under 30 minutes away from me.

The next part of my genealogical journey will focus on continuing to fill in the blanks on Irving’s side of the family. I am still working on finding a way to expand the tree above my great grandfather to find out more information about my relatives that lived in Poland. I feel so lucky to have the resources and guidance of the NYG&B in pursuing this individual project. They have fostered and encouraged my passion for genealogy and history in general. I can’t wait to continue this project during and after my time here.

 

Brielle Brook is a rising senior history major at Vassar College.

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One thought on “Escaping Poland Before the Holocaust

  1. Christopher T

    Brielle,

    What a fascinating blog post. Thank you. I think it reminds us all that there is so much ‘personal’ history that remains unknown – often, I think, because it seemed trivial to those who knew it and lived it; they never thought that two or three generations down the road it might be meaningful.

    But the fact that your family did not share their own experience with the Holocaust makes me wonder. Both my parents, were born and grew up in the United States. They were children of the Great Depression. While my dad wasn’t much to see how something like that would be worth sharing (his WW II memories were a whole different story), my mom gave me great insight into how a family of 7 survived those times. Literally, I was raised on those stories.
    But you were not raised on your family’s. I find myself intensely curious to know why. Partially, that comes from reading your post and having, now, an interest in your pursuit of your own past, but I have to admit there is a greater issue.

    Those who lived through the camps are leaving us now at such a great rate – the same rate as the commercials one sees telling us how many WW II vets die every day. We are losing this link to the past at an unsustainable rate; unsustainable not because there haven’t been books upon books, and films and recordings and museums to document that horror of humanity, but because young 19 year old rising senior history majors are unaware of their own connection to that past.

    I fear you aren’t the only person in your age bracket who may be in this situation. Because you are a history major and now have discovered a bent for genealogy, you will, in all likelihood, learn much about your family and how they lived and died during that time. But not all great grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have that nature that you so luckily possess. So I ask you again, so that that connection is not forgotten either. How many millions of kids may be out there unaware of how the Holocaust affected so much of who they are without knowing that it’s because someone they are related to was there, not because they were told in a classroom (or by their own parents) ‘Never Forget’?

    Please forgive the length of this ‘comment’ and also, if you find it so, its intrusive and personal nature – I do apologize for that, but like politics, though we may have forgotten it, all history is local, too.

    Reply

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