April 5, 2013
TV note for this Sunday:
On CBS' "Sunday Morning," April 7 -- a piece featuring a tour of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. The 90-minute program airs on Channel 13 early, usually starts between 6 a.m and 7, depending on the week.
Next Meeting: Sunday, April 14, 10 a.m.: Return to Galicia, Sherri Venezia
Albert Einstein Center, Sacramento
After a decade of family research, Sherri Venezia felt an intense need to go to the Ukraine and visit Lviv, a city central to where her ancestors lived and the capital of the historic region of Galicia. Lviv is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With the help of a local guide and researcher, Sherri discovered the names linked with places through research and also visited a local concentration camp, Janowska, and a former ghetto enclosure. She'll share her visit as the first person in her family to set foot in Lviv in more than 100 years.
Sherri Venezia lives in Davis and is a retired school psychologist.
March 17 Meeting Notes
Mort Rumberg called the meeting to order and mentioned the upcoming Jewish Heritage Festival, to be held at 20th and Capitol on April 28. It will take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.; we'll have a table, and volunteers are being sought to staff the table for an hour or so. "It's a chance to meet people whose families may have come from the same country as yours," says Bob Wascou.
Mort said we received an email from a New York professor, David Goldman, who speaks seven languages. He's offering translation services. He can be reached at lugman@....
Teven Laxer passed around a German book focusing on 20 families in northwestern Germany. He'll post information about it on the German SIG website.
And treasurer Bob Wascou reminds those who have not yet paid their $25 dues to do so. We're beginning to put together a slate of officers for the coming year, with elections in June -- volunteers are very welcome for the various positions.
Shlomo Rosenfeld was our March speaker; he will also speak in Davis April 7. Born in Tel Aviv, he has worked as an engineer in the Bay Area for 40 years.
He shared his personal story searching for a branch of his family thought to have been lost in the Holocaust -- an amazing story with much detective work.
Shlomo says it started with a letter sent from his grandfather. "It led me from the Lodz ghetto to Yad Vashem records in Israel, then to the discovery of the family. The coincidences are unbelievable."
Shlomo said he was inspired by two people -- a woman from the Soviet Union he hired to assist him, and his "second and 1/2" cousin," as he was preparing to go to Poland."
The aforementioned letter had a return address, "which was most important to me." He had already googled "Cegielniana 50," and the name of his uncle popped up.
Shlomo noted that before World War II, a third of the 665,000 inhabitants of Lodz were Jewish. In February 1940, a Lodz ghetto was created and sealed.
Back to his computer -- Shlomo found 800 Rosenfeld records on JewishGen and copied them all. " I discovered 13 who lived at the same address, Flat 19. (There were more than 100 flats in the building.)
He got the date of birth of his grandmother and grandfather, and got his grandmother's maiden name. "Each record had another clue."
"I found a 1939 Lodz map, then went back to Google Earth and found the current name of the street where my relatives lived," Shlomo said. He sais he also took advantage of a Lodz streets database in JewishGen, Google Earth photos, and the newest Google tool, Google Street View, which showed him Cegielniana18.
"There are places in the Jewish ghetto that are still there," Shlomo said, and showed a photo he took on a trip to Poland of the door to Flat 19.
Shlomo used the Jewish name database on JewishGen and sorted records by last name, first name and mother's name.
He found his grandfather who was born in Pilica, but learned there was a big fire and he moved to Lodz.
From Yad Vashem records on the Internet, Shlomo learned that his father, in `957, had submitted victim forms. "We didn't know he had done that, we thought we had to do it."
Shlomo said you can search the Yad Vashem database by victims' names or by the name of the submitter.
He learned that in 1956, a woman named Bluma Rotberg had submitted a form that had Shlomo's family -- her maiden name was Rosenfeld, and she was the sister of a victim. Bluma listed her parents' names, which he remembered from a Pilica listing.
"Bluma gave me the confidence that the Pilica family was my family," Shlomo said.
He said a friend told him that Bluma was listed on two websites with her family trees. On one tree, a Natan Rotberg was listed in Israel, and Shlomo had his sister call and leave a message. The second tree led to a woman in Florida. "She gave me her father's telephone number -- Mark Mischa Rosenfeld -- my second cousin, who was born in Lodz after the war.
She suggested he would call when he got back home, since he was in San Francisco. Shlomo was able to leave a message that they could meet up in the Bay Area, and did.
"It was unbelievable. We had dinner together and the next day he flew back to Israel." As it happens, he had come to Berkeley to see his granddaughter.
"You have to really scrutinize information," Shlomo said. "One listing had four kids listed, not five, that's why they never looked for my father. I went to Florida to meet my second cousin, and he had a picture of his grandfather, my great-uncle.
Shlomo noted he was a member of CRARG, a Polish research group for a specific area. He wasn't sure about the name Amanyel, which he was told was actually Emmanuel. Through that group, someone sent him a picture of a family tombstone that mentioned the person being a Cohan-- "the only record we have." He said you may ask for something but get something else that is completed unexpected.
Shlomo listed the major websites he used in his family research:
A few articles that may be of interest:
Jewish dead lie forgotten in East L.A. graves
A search at Mount Zion for the tomb of a prominent Yiddish author reveals a dystopian landscape of toppled tombstones that no one seems to own.
By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times
March 28, 2013
The black gates of Mount Zion are chained. A sign stamped on a wall of bright bougainvillea on Downey Road asks visitors to call a neighboring graveyard if they want to go in. The phone number doesn’t exist anymore.
Robert Adler-Peckerar stood at the entrance of the Jewish cemetery in East L.A., the downtown skyline behind him, the rush of the 710 and 5 freeways around him. It was a Sunday, and he was on a quest to find the grave of a man born on that day more than 100 years before.
He tracked down a caretaker next door who led him through a fence into Mount Zion. Once inside, he saw dozens of children’s graves closely spaced. Tiny and delicate, several headstones had been knocked down.
Walking down a winding asphalt road scabbed with dirt, weeds and a shag carpet of dried cypress leaves, the 38-year-old saw that hundreds of tombstones were on the ground, some lying like small, toppled Stonehenges.
On one tomb, a vandal scrawled a cryptic graffiti: "Here lies Horse. RIP."
An hour later, he finally found what he was looking for: the grave of Lamed Shapiro, a writer of gruesomely dark stories of pogroms in Eastern Europe who died a pauper in Los Angeles in 1948.
Shapiro’s tombstone, in the shape of an open book, had rolled to the ground like a decapitated head but, by a stroke of fortune, landed face-up.
Many grave stones have fallen prey to vandalism. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times) More photos
"This is what happened to one of the greatest Yiddish writers in L.A.," said Adler-Peckerar, executive director of Yiddishkayt, an organization dedicated to preserving the Yiddish language and culture. "I'd never seen a cemetery like this in America."
He had gone looking for the grave of a man who had become "unbalanced" by the end of his days. He ended up finding a place the writer might have understood. Both, in their own way, had been left behind.
The Eastside neighborhoods of East L.A. and Boyle Heights have long served as an archive of Los Angeles’ multicultural history — Ellis Islands for transplants from the East and across the Pacific — and in more recent years, from Mexico.
Nowhere is this more evident than in their graveyards.
On 3rd Street off Eastern Avenue, there's the pristine Serbian Cemetery. On the 1st Street side of that graveyard is the Chinese Cemetery. The sprawling Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights is the final home of some of the most familiar family names in Los Angeles history, including the Lankershims and the Van Nuyses.
On Whittier Boulevard in East L.A., Home of Peace is a large Jewish cemetery with Roman columns and beautiful mausoleums for noted rabbis. Among the well-known buried there are two of the Three Stooges — Curly and Shemp Howard, and Jack Warner, the film executive who co-founded Warner Bros.
Earlier this year, Eddie Goldstein, perhaps the last Jew to be born and live in Boyle Heights his whole life, was buried at Home of Peace.
And then there's Mount Zion, a graveyard with a hard-luck history.
Mount Zion was opened in 1916 by a burial society dedicated to provide free burials for poor Jews. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times) More photos
It was opened in 1916 by a burial society dedicated to provide free burials for poor Jews. Where other cemeteries featured vast expanses of trimmed grass, handsome columns and statuary, Mount Zion was mostly concrete and dirt.
The cemetery rarely made the news, for good or bad, but in 1932 it did when a Hyman Bobroff, age 50, shot himself in the head inside Mount Zion. A second bullet pierced his heart, apparently the result of a reflexive movement of his gun hand after the first pierced his skull.
A year before, the cemetery hosted the funeral for a murdered "alcohol broker."
"No big shots were at the funeral," it was reported in the Los Angeles Times, "although a number of lesser lights from the underworld appeared both at the undertaking parlors and the cemetery."
Born in Ukraine in 1878, Lamed Shapiro became known for stories bathed in hyper-violent acts of murder, rape and even cannibalism. He wrote most of his tales after immigrating to the U.S. in 1905.
Despite his reputation for graphic violence, there was a spare beauty to his writing, some scholars said, and not all of his stories ended in bloodshed.
But in one blog, a writer described reading a Shapiro short about a boy and his dog and waiting with dread for something awful to befall the dog. How could it not, after the other stories he had read? He was relieved, he wrote, "to watch the dog run off, never to return."
Top: Robert Adler Peckerar, right, with Aaron Paley. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times) Bottom: Map locates Mount Zion Cemetery. (Los Angeles Times) More photos
By the time Shapiro died in 1948 in Los Angeles, Yiddish was becoming a marginalized language as Jews sought to assimilate, said David Shneer, a professor of Jewish history at the University of Colorado. Shapiro died poor, alcoholic and past Yiddish literature's heyday.
"It's terrible to say it, but he didn't die soon enough," he said. "It doesn't surprise me that a man who was clearly depressed most of his life ... was buried in a cemetery that is in ruins."
Below the sign providing visitors with a defunct phone number is another one that reads: "This property is maintained through contributions to the Mt. Zion Cemetery Fund & by the generosity of the Jewish Federation Council."
Richard George, the director of the Home of Peace cemetery next door, hops on a golf cart and drives toward the forgotten little cemetery just over a fence.
Although the Jewish population all but disappeared from the Eastside, there are enough ties to the neighborhood to keep Home of Peace moderately busy with burials, about 100 a year. Mount Zion hasn't been an active cemetery in years. The last burial there was about six years ago, he said.
Home of Peace and the Jewish Federation agreed to look after the cemetery many years ago, but neither organization knows who actually owns the property, and county records are inconclusive, listing the name of the apparently defunct burial society.
George said the federation pays Home of Peace about $1,000 a month to do basic maintenance, some of which involves killing weeds that grow rampant. About two years ago, he said, the federation paid to cut down cypress trees that spread debris throughout the cemetery.
Most of the fallen headstones were knocked over by vandals, though there’s no evidence anti-Semitism is a motivation.
"This cemetery needs money help," George said. "I'm personally upset when I walk in here. It's just shameful."
Jay Sanderson, the president of the Jewish Federation, said that in June 1969, the federation received a letter from the burial society that founded Mount Zion stating that the organization would no longer continue operating the cemetery.
This cemetery needs money help. I'm personally upset when I walk in here. It's just shameful."
— Richard George, the director of the Home of Peace cemetery next door to Mount Zion
Sanderson said a title search for the property found that it belonged to the Masonic Cemetery Assn., but that turned out to be a dissolved corporation. In 1974, the Jewish Federation reached an agreement with Home of Peace to pay the monthly fee to take care of Mount Zion.
In 1987, the Whittier Narrows earthquake devastated the cemetery and four years later, the federation sent a letter to all known living heirs of Mount Zion’s dead.
"They were almost all elderly people living on fixed incomes," Sanderson said. "Since then, they've all passed away.... I don't know what happens when no one owns a cemetery. I don’t know what you do with a cemetery like that."
The federation, a philanthropic nonprofit group with more than $50 million in revenue, according to the most recent tax records, funds scores of programs, including supporting schools, universities, Jewish social service organizations, the restoration of a shul in Boyle Heights and aid to poor Holocaust survivors.
"It's an interesting moral dilemma if you think about it," he said. "We try to do the best that we can do. We can do more, yes. But the question is, what are we not going to be doing if we do that?
"This is a cemetery in need most people don't know exists," Sanderson said. "It's a cemetery that no longer really belongs to anyone."
Two days after his first visit to Mount Zion, Adler-Peckerar returned. A Home of Peace caretaker rode a dirt bike to meet him at the gate. Throughout the cemetery, rounded, oval photographs set in enamel lay on the ground. The caretaker, Lupe Munoz, said vandals probably used rocks or screwdrivers to pry them off.
Adler-Peckerar touches the headstone of Lamed Shapiro. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times) More photos
Loved ones did visit from time to time, he said, but not too many anymore.
This time, Adler-Peckerar paid closer attention to the messages on the monuments. There was obvious love here once. One stone featured a 27-year-old man, "our beloved son," with a violin on his shoulder. Someone’s daughter was described as a "beautiful maiden." One World War II pilot was described as a hero who was "blown to pieces in flame at the age of 26."
Shapiro’s own gravestone proclaims: "Lamed Levi Shapiro, Author of the Yiddishe Melukhe" — "The Jewish Empire," one of his works.
Next to it, his wife’s grave marker lay face-down in the dirt.
"There’s a cemetery in New York that’s like the pantheon of Yiddish writers," Adler-Peckerar said. "This is the complete opposite... This is what happens when people are left behind."
From Avotaynu's E-zine:
Ancestry.com CEO Discloses Future Plans
Tim Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ancestry.com, disclosed some of his company’s plans as a keynote speaker at the recently concluded RootsTech conference held annually in Salt Lake City. Among his comments were:
• Ancestry.com is partnering with FamilySearch to bring 140 million pages of U.S. Probate Records covering more than 130 years.
• Over the next 5 years, we will be spending $100 million to digitize, index and put online new content on Ancestry.com, Fold3, Archives and Newspapers.com.
• Ancestry.com’s new iOS 4.1 update will be available soon (now available as of today 3/25).
• More than one-third of new registrants on Ancestry.com are coming from mobile devices.
• Same one-third are younger than Ancestry.com’s typical website user, and this is a great sign of the future health of the family history category.
Mort Rumberg passes this article on:
Maariv - nrg Lwow is removing the Jewish gravestones from the pavements
After WWII the Soviets used the gravestones from the Jewish cemetery for building. Following a protest of the Jewish community, it was decided to return them to the cemetery
Nissan Tzur / 3/3/2013
In 1944, immediately after the Red Army freed Lwow from the Nazi's, the Soviet authorities started to rebuild the buildings which were destroyed during the war. For that purpose they used in a lot of cases parts of gravestones from the ancient Jewish cemetery, which was destroyed in 1940 with the beginning of the bombing.
Ghetto Lwow. Part of the gravestones were used as pavement stones. Archive photograph
The Soviets used the gravestones also to pave sidewalk and roads, and in 1947 the stones were used to build the central market building in the city. Now, after a long years protest from the heads of the Jewish community, the municipality announced that it intends to remove the gravestones which had been used as building materials, and return them to the only Jewish cemetery in the city which had been left intact after the bombing of the Nazis.
The heads of the community claim, by the way, that hundreds of gravestones are still used to pave sidewalk and building public buildings in Lwow - even nowadays. Shaichet Mailech, the Ukraine representative in the council of the Jewish communities of the former Soviet Union, is acting already for 25 years to remove the gravestones from the sidewalks and the walls of the market and return them to the Jewish community. He claims that they have a lot of importance for the people of the community.
"It is possible to see on every gravestone the script in Hebrew. Every such eulogy is telling us the story of the life of this person. Those stones, that people who come to the market to do their shopping are walking on them, are still sacred. This is an everyday mass desecration. We received a lot of letters from many people who support our demand to disassemble the building of the market."
A part of the Jewish gravestones made their way to the neighboring villages around Lwow.
Victor Zachartchuk, an inhabitant of the village Dobromil next to the city, told us that his courtyard is paved by parts of Jewish gravestones and that he will be happy if the municipality of Lwow will return them to their place. But, he says, the municipality refuses to do so.
"We always wanted to remove the gravestones from the floor and return them, but the authorities do not want to deal with that. They say that they do not have the financial ability to do so. We cannot do that ourselves, we do not have the financial ability to disassemble the gravestones and return them to the Lwow cemetery. It is a pity that we have to walk on them, but we cannot act in this matter by ourselves."
The authorities in Lwow announced that if they will be able to raise financial support, they will soon gather all the parts of the gravestones from the city and neighborhood and return them to the Jewish cemetery. In addition, there is a plan to build a memorial for the commemoration of more than hundred thousand Jews who lived in the city before WWII.
During the last years, with the help of large fundraising, Mailech succeeded to uncover more than 200 mass graves of Nazi victims in Lwow. In 2010 he received a grant of US$ 32,000 from the government of USA, to start archeological excavations in the site of the synagogue "Di Goldene Roiz".
This is the most ancient synagogue in Ukraine, which was destroyed in 1943 by the Nazis, but the excavations were postponed because of a juridical disagreement with an entrepreneur who wanted to build a hotel on the same spot where the synagogue stood.
A sharp protest from the part of Jewish organizations worldwide persuaded the Ukraine government to cancel the contract with the entrepreneur.
From Avotaynu's E-Zine, March 24
Federation of Genealogical Societies Again Proactive on Record Access Attacks
The Federation of Genealogical Societies has joined a coalition of interest groups who sent a letter to Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah asking him to take a leadership role on important issues involving technology, privacy and genealogy records access. These include: