Tuesday, 19 March 2019

11 Underwood Street


Ding-dong! 11 Underwood Street? The bells in my head started ringing. Where had I seen this address?

I recently received the Marriage Certificate of my grandfather's cousin Abram Icek Rajn and Bloomah Freedman, who married in the East End of London in 1907. This was the address they gave. I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. But maybe it was a different number? Maybe it was Underhill, or Underwater, or Under-something-else?

So I checked in my MacFamilyTree software, which knows everything. Well, everything I've ever told it, and since forgotten. This is what I got when I did a search for 'Underwood':


That's 13 people, all associated with Underwood something. So the bells had good reason to ring! Setting aside the two Asofs and the Faigin, who lived at number 10 and who are on my paternal side (more on that later), there are 10 people here, all on my mother's Frankenstein side, and all at number 11. Not all at the same time, though they might just about have fitted in. NB: the dates shown are their dates of birth, not when they lived in the house.

Some of my cousins from the Hyman, Rajn and Frankenstein families will recognise one or two names here. Many will not recognise any. I had never heard of any of them until I started researching my family history. And yet here they are, all at 11 Underwood Street in the Mile End New Town area of the East End over a period of 10 or 12 years at the beginning of the 20th Century.

I'm going to try to follow them in and out of the house, and maybe speculate a bit on what brought them there.

But first I wanted to find the house.

Easier said than done.


There's no such street. It's had its name changed, and it's been Underwood Road for 80, maybe even 100 years. I think it was probably changed because there's another 'Underwood Street' about a mile away, so they changed one of them to 'Road' to avoid confusion.

I was so pleased to find the street that I wasn't thinking straight when I was trying to decide where I thought the house would have been. The whole street has been demolished and rebuilt, and while the even numbers (to the right of this photo) are probably more or less where they stood 100 years ago, the odd-numbered side has been altered completely. I'm standing at the bottom end of the street, on the corner, and I fancied #11 would have been more or less where that first tree is, so that's the photo I took.

I should have turned round.

There's a short continuation of Underwood Street (I still can't get used to calling it "Road") behind me. I had noticed it, but because the even-numbered houses started at #2 parallel to me, I presumed that that was the beginning of the street, and that the little street over the way was something different. I didn't even check.

I only found this out later, when I got to the local Archives. This is from a Land Registry map from 1914:


Some time in the 1930s, this map had been annotated by the kind people at the Land Registry, and they seem to have randomly pencilled in some of the house numbers. They must have known I was coming. In the short section of Underwood Street, to the left, they've marked #1 and #13, the houses at either end of the block. You might need a magnifying glass to make them out, but the numbers are there.

So #11 must be one house before the end of the block, next door to #13. Opposite the house are the buildings of St Anne's Catholic Church, and no houses, so the even-side numbering did indeed start opposite where I had been standing for the photo, with the block known as the Metropolitan Buildings, dating from the 1860s. Counting along, I reckon #10 must be at the right-hand end of the part shown here, where it says "-olitan". These were tiny apartments, model homes for their day I suppose. The building was 4 or 5 stories high, and very solidly built; I think it was taken down some 40 or 50 years ago..

As well as the church, you can see a couple of other essential ingredients for early 20th Century living in the vicinity - they had a Pub (PH - Public House) just round the corner in Albert Street, with a strategically placed Urinal just outside. 


And according to the Post Office Directory, the corner houses doubled as equally essential shops: #13 was a confectioner's, #15 a dairy, and #2 a tobacconist.

And then I found a photo, on the British History Online site:



Underwood Street, #1-#13

The row of tiny cottages dates from the early 1850s, and it looks like they had two rooms upstairs, probably bedrooms, and two down, one of which opened directly onto the street. Looking at the Land Registry plan again, you can see that each house extended out the back on the right-hand side, creating an irregularly-shaped yard. This would have given room for a kitchen at the back of the building, and possibly a toilet at the end. If the upper storey was also extended, there may even have been a bathroom. 

And at the far end of the row you can see the shop at #13, with #11 just before it.

And now? This is the current Google Street View:


The whole block is now part of a school playground, a lovely open space for children in the heart of the East End. And counting two of these fence panels as more or less the width of each cottage, I reckon #11 would be situated between the larger tree and the yellow street sign.

Ding-dong! In my mind's eye, I rang at the door. Well I knocked actually, they didn't have bells in those days. Someone opened the door, and I explained who I was .....

- = = = = = = = = = -

That's enough for the moment. We'll look in more detail at the people who lived here in another post.


Monday, 18 March 2019

It's Rajning cousins


When I first got in touch a few years back with my Third Cousins in the USA, Fran, Joyce and Dana, they sent me a typewritten Tree, compiled in 1999, that included Abraham Icek Rajn, half-brother of Fran's grandmother Frajda. 

* * Warning: this gets pretty convoluted, but then these things usually do * *

First, a bit of family history. If you're not feeling really fresh, you can skip this bit. I'll understand. Some days I can't get my head round it myself. 
So:
Frajda Rajn's mother was Rywka Laja Frankensztajn; her father was Hersz Ber Rajn. Hersz Ber had previously been married to Rywka Laja's sister Tauba (see the clip from the Tree above), who had 4 children with him, including Abraham Icek, and then sadly died. So, according to custom at the time, Hersz Ber then married his deceased wife's sister (Rywka Laja) with whom he had a further 3 children, including  the afore-mentioned Frajda, and then passed away himself. If you're still with us, Rywka Laja then took a second husband, Herszl Boll, with whom she had a further 6 children. So there's half-siblings on all sides.

Abraham Icek Rajn
Abraham Icek was the only one of Hersz Ber Rajn and Tauba Frankensztajn's 4 children to survive into adulthood; the other 3 had all died in infancy. The Tree also showed 3 children for Abraham, but it didn’t have the name of his wife. Two of his children appear with anglicised names: Ben and Esther, whilst the third has the Yiddish name Tauba. There was a suggestion they might have gone to France. This was all anyone had about them.

I had located Abraham in the Polish records, where he appears as Abram Icek, born 1883. However, I didn't find anything further on him - no reference to a marriage, or to any children that might be his. I wasn’t sure whether the anglicised names of his children in the Tree were an indication that the family had emigrated from Poland to an English-speaking country, or if it was just the way they were referred to in my cousins' family. They didn't know either. I didn’t attempt to follow them up.

Out of the blue
Then, out of the blue, a couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a person with the surname Raine, about a DNA match he had with one of my other Frankenstein cousins whose DNA account I manage. We couldn’t find a Morris link - which is what he was looking for - but I wondered if the Raine name might be significant. We haven’t found a Raine link yet either, but it did set me off looking at our Rajns again.

And once I started looking, I pretty quickly found Abram Icek and his family.

In London.



There they were, in the 1911 UK Census, as Abram and Blooma Rayne with the first two children, Bernard and Debbe. Hetty was born a couple of years later. All three children were born in the East End of London, between 1908 and 1913.

Go back to what my cousins had on their Tree: Bernard is Ben, Debbe is Taube, Esther is Hetty. And Rajn is Rayne. These are their cousins - or at least, they are Fran's mother's half-Second Cousins. Joyce and Dana are a bit more distant - they are the great-grandchildren of Hersz Ber Rajn's second wife, with her second husband. So maybe they're step-half-Second Cousins??

Mystery cousins
There's another family of Fran's cousins - Alan and Evelyn, also grandchildren of Frajda - who live not too far from me. When I went to see them a year or two ago to swap notes, they mentioned some cousins they vaguely remembered hearing about, who lived near them in London when they were young. They couldn't place who they were. I thought perhaps they might have been one or other of our Frankensteins that were in London around that time, including my mother's family - her father was a First Cousin to Frajda, and they came to London at the same time, in 1913. We couldn't place them, though, and we left it there.

Now I think we've found out who these mystery cousins were - they're Abram Icek and his family. Abram is closer to Alan and Evelyn than my Frankensztajns were - he's their grandmother Frajda's half brother - same father, different mother - though the mothers are sisters, of course. Is there a word for that relationship?

What's in a name?
And, of course, there's more. Here's Abram Icek's marriage certificate:


Abraham Isaac Ray marries Bloomah Freedman on 3 March 1907, at Great Alie Street Synagogue in the East End. His father is shown as 'Harris Barnett Ray' - that's Hersz Ber Rajn to you and me. What's interesting about that is that Hersz Ber had died 13 years previously, in 1894, and had never left Poland. Abraham had anglicised his deceased father's Yiddish names, using versions that had been current amongst Jews in England for over a century - Hersz becomes Harris, Ber becomes Barnett, and no-one has to explain how to pronounce or spell them.

I have managed to trace a few records for Bernard, Debbe and Hetty, the children of Abraham and Bloomah. They all married and had children, one each so far as I can ascertain, all born in London just before or just after WW2. These children are my generation, they may still be around. The next challenge is to find them.

Ding-dong
And, of course, there's more still. On their marriage certificate, Abraham and Bloomah gave the address 11 Underwood Street. That rang a bell. Hadn't I come across that address somewhere before?


But that story warrants a post of its own.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

And Basia, too

Aharon


Six years ago I posted about the discovery that my father's Second Cousin (my 2C1R), Aharon Schreibman, had been killed during the Holocaust (May their souls rest in peace). He probably died, along with his wife Sara and all the other remaining Jews of Pinsk, when the Nazis destroyed the town's Ghetto and everybody in it in 1942. They were in their 40s, and there's no mention of any children in the testimonies submitted to the Yad Vashem Holocaust database, so I presume they didn't have any. There are no submissions for Aharon's parents, Leizer and Khasia Braina, so I presume they had died before the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941; they were born in the 1850s or 60s.

Yad Vashem is in Jerusalem, and the testimonies were collected from the late 1950s onwards, mostly from people living in Israel. They are mostly written in Hebrew, and sometimes in the witness's native language, maybe English or more likely Russian or Polish. The YV website carries translations into English of all the information submitted.

There are two testimonies for Aharon, one submitted in 1957 by a woman called Rakhel, described as his niece, and one in 1999 by someone called Varda, a 'relative'. Logic suggests that if Rakhel is a niece of Aharon, she is probably the daughter of one of his siblings, but I didn't have any information on his family apart from the names of his parents.

These submissions give basic identifying details, as far as the person submitting can recall them. As you can see, one submission was made 15 years after the events, the other 47 years after. It is quite possible that Varda, submitting in 1999, may not have known Aharon and Sara; she may not even have been born when they perished. Rakhel, Aharon's niece, may have been in a different country in 1942; she is most unlikely to have been in Pinsk at the time, for hardly anyone survived. So the details of ages, places of birth, occupation may vary between submissions, according to the knowledge of the submitter; even names, too. Sometimes the submitters are able to give parents' names, sometimes those of children.

Very occasionally there's a photo - and here we are lucky. This one was submitted by Varda; the young man is Aharon, the little girl with him is not identified. He looks to me to be about 20; he was born in 1897, so the photo probably dates from around 1918-20, just after the end of WW1. The girl is maybe 8-10 years old, so born around 1910; she is clearly not his child.

There were other Schreibmans in the database, but I did not manage to identify any of them as being from my family.

There things rested, until 5 weeks ago.

Basia
Late one evening I was checking something or other on the Ancestry website (as you do), and noticed that Ben, a fellow Schreibman/Pinsk researcher, had added a couple of names to the part of his Tree that covers my family. We have both traced our Schreibman lines back to the mid-18C, but cannot find where, or even whether, they meet. So we may be cousins, but we can't be sure. You can see a discussion of where we'd got to a year ago here: The Schreibmans of Pinsk - Thirteen Families or One?

What Ben had added was a sister for Aharon: Basia.

Where did he get this from?


You've probably guessed - the Yad Vashem database. He'd done what is always recommended, but I had neglected to do - he had followed up other testimonies by these same witnesses, Rakhel and Varda, and what he found, of course, was other members of the same family.

Rakhel had submitted testimonies for her parents, Basia and Mordekhai Wekser. Basia's maiden name is given as Schreibman, and her mother is Khasia Braina. Basia's father - Rakhel's grandfather - is not named, so he may have died before Rakhel was born; but Basia is clearly Aharon's sister. And my 2C1R!

And there was a photo! Varda had also made a submission. She identifies herself as a granddaughter of Basia, and uses the same surname as Rakhel: Ben Aharon. So she is Rakhel's daughter, testifying 40 years later. And she still had a photo of her grandmother.

Also on Yad Vashem, I came across an entry for Basia on a list of Pinsk residents from July 1941. This added a second given name: Basza Henia. The Polish spelling suggests the list was made by Polish authorities, so it must have been compiled before the German invasion. Pinsk was in the area of Belarus allocated to Poland after WW1, so inter-war records are usually in Polish. The Soviet Union seized this part of Poland under the 'Non-Aggression Pact' they agreed with Germany in August 1939, but it looks as though the administration may still nave been carried out in Polish.

The List of Residents also gives a date of birth for Basza: 1886; this makes her about 10 years older than her brother, Aharon. And her father is shown as Lozer, which corresponds to the Leizer we have from elsewhere.

There is also an address for her: Breszka Street, number 16. The list for this address shows that Basza Henia was living there with Aharon and Sara. This list does show children with some of the other families in the building, so I think it is safe to assume that Aharon and Sara did not have any.

Basia's husband Mordekhai Vekser is not in the house at 16 Brzeska with her. This is clarified in the testimony Varda submitted for him - her grandfather - in which she shows him as 'divorced'; whereas strangely, for her grandmother Basia, she puts 'married'.

Who's the little girl?
Let's now return to the photo of Aharon and the little girl. Who is she? I guessed above that she would have been born around 1910.

Well, we have now seen that Basia was born in 1886. I think it's highly likely that the little girl in the photo is Rakhel, Aharon's niece, the daughter of his sister Basia, born around 1910 when her mother Basia would have been 24. I also think the photo provides some negative evidence (no apologies for the pun) that Basia and Mordekhai did not have any other children. Surely they would have been in this photo with their uncle, along with Rakhel?

Rakhel herself does not appear in the wartime records. She would have been about 30 when the Germans took Pinsk. I know that the Soviet authorities managed to evacuate some people to the East of the USSR ahead of the invasion. However they were not many, as Pinsk was fairly close to German territory and was captured almost immediately. There are a couple of other possibilities: escape from the town to join the partisans in the forests, or prior emigration. She was in Israel in the 1950s, so it is possible she emigrated there before the War, though not many were able to emigrate from the USSR during the 1930s. The least likely scenario is that she survived the War in Pinsk.

And what of Varda? I'm guessing that she would have been born around 1945-50, by which time Rakhel would have been in her mid-to-late 30s. This would make her the same generation as me, and hopefully still around. I did try writing to someone with her name a few years back, but got no response.

Maybe I'll try again.


Monday, 17 September 2018

Back to Russia!

The second talk I did at the IAJGS Conference in Warsaw last month was Back to Russia!, about the experiences of my grandfather Louis Frankenstein and his cousin Jack Schwartz during the First World War. They had both emigrated from Gombin in Poland to London in 1913, Louis was around 20 years old, Jack a couple of years younger.

During the War they were both caught up in an episode about which little appears to be known, even by historians of the period. This was an agreement between the British and Russian governments for a reciprocal exchange of conscripts, so that Russian subjects living in Britain, and British subjects living in Russia, would be liable for military service in the country they were living in. This agreement was known as the Anglo-Russian Military Service Convention, 1917.

I have only been able to find one book which deals with this episode, War or Revolution: Russian Jews and Conscription in Britain, 1917written by Harold Shukman, a historian whose father went "back to Russia" under the Convention. Apart from Shukman's book - which is excellent - and a couple of unpublished PhDs, which were also very helpful, I found just a chapter here, a few quotations there, and nothing else. I have even drawn a blank with a number of historians whose main focus is the contribution of British Jews to the First World War, and the effects of the War on the Jewish community - even the specialists were not able to provide any useful leads.

So the story told in this talk is based on what I have been able to glean from these sources (listed at the end of the Handout, which you can read or download), and on documents found as part of my own research into the lives of my grandfather Louis and his cousin Jack. This involved, amonsgt other things, pursuing Freedom of Information requests with the National Archives, and with West Yorkshire Police.

I must say at this point that neither my family nor the Schwartz family had the faintest idea what our respective grandfathers "did during the War". We have a photo of my grandfather in some sort of military uniform, but I couldn't find any record of his military service; he doesn't appear in the British Jewry Book of Honour, which is a thoroughly researched roll-call of thousands of Jews who served in the British Forces in WW1. There is a Jack Schwartz listed in the Book of Honour, indeed there are several, and his family thought he fought in France. He didn't.
Here's the Presentation I used for the talk. Click on the image below, and you will be taken to the Presentation page. You'll be asked to give yourself a name - it doesn't matter what name you use. Then you just click on the 'Slideshow' icon - it's the blue triangle, just left of centre above the slide.  This gives you the Slideshow in all its full-screen majesty. 
You can play through it using the Spacebar, the Return/Enter key, or the right-arrow key. Most of the slides have two or three components that appear in sequence, one at a time. You'll just have to imagine the commentary that goes with them. Jan did an audio recording, but we haven't got round to processing it yet, let alone matching it up to the slides. 
When you get to the end, or feel you can't take any more, just press the Esc key.



Friday, 14 September 2018

Fields of Glass

The Annual Conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies was held in Warsaw last month, and I was lucky enough to have two talks accepted.

This is the Presentation that went with one of them, Fields of Glass. It grew out of my research into the family of my great-grandfather, Hersz Ber Waksman, who died in London in 1945, shortly after I was born. I found that his mother was Gitla Laja Glasman, and that she had died young leaving two infant sons. We'd never heard of the Glasmans, so I started looking into them.

They came from a village called Gniewoszow, on the Vistula River in central Poland, and there were loads of them. There are around 150 individual Glasmans listed in the village in the birth, marriage and death indexes on the JRI-Poland website, over a period of some 50 years in the mid-19th Century.

I thought that might be enough to do a little social study. I'm not a social scientist, or a statistician, and I know I can't draw any grand conclusions about 19th Century Jewish village life from this small survey, but I think there are some interesting pointers here. And they're my Glasmans, these are my ancestors.

Here's the Presentation I used for the talk. Click on the image, and you will be taken to the Presentation page. You'll be asked to give yourself a name - it doesn't matter what name you use. Then you just click on the 'Slideshow' icon - it's the blue triangle, just left of centre above the slide.  This gives you the Slideshow in all its full-screen majesty.

You can play through it using the Spacebar, the Return/Enter key, or the right-arrow key. Most of the slides have two or three components that appear in sequence, one at a time. You'll just have to imagine the commentary that goes with them. Jan did an audio recording, but we haven't got round to processing it yet, let alone matching it up to the slides.

When you get to the end, or feel you can't take any more, just press the Esc key.

You can also read or download the Handout for the talk.

[NB: I haven't tried it on mobile or iPad yet.]

Jan and I paid a brief visit to Gniewoszow last year, I'll post a few photos later.


Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Schreibmans of Pinsk - Thirteen Families or One?

Some of the 13 separate Schreibman Trees visualised in MacFamilyTree's Interactive Tree
Benjamin and Andrew go back to Pinchas Schreibman, b c1740; I go back to Movsha Schreibman, also b c1740. The two families are separate lines as far back as we know them, and both are recorded in Pinsk (Belarus) throughout most of the 200 years up to WW2. The name Schreibman is occupational, signifying 'scribe', and both families have traditions of Torah scribes, teachers, and similar. Are Pinchas and Movsha connected? Unfortunately, we can't tell. Every so often I have a big push on Schreibman research, and I did again a couple of months ago. I reckon I have found some 13 separate Schreibman lines, all from Pinsk or other towns in the region such as Kobryn or Lubishev, none of which I can connect to any of the others. As an example, there are what appear to be 3 different men called Chaim, all b c1840 to different fathers. Are their fathers connected, brothers even? We can't tell. One of the problems is that we don't know when the name Schreibman was first adopted by these families as an inheritable surname. The earliest documentation I have for my line is the 1816 Revision List, which has: Hirsh Schreibman, son of Movsha, aged 50. So Hirsh was b 1766. What we cannot deduce from this is that the family was known as Schreibman when Hirsh was born. So although I refer to my 4g-g'father as 'Movsha Schreibman', I don't actually have any evidence he was ever called that. The date of adoption of the surname is important, because this is an occupational name. Anyone could be a shoemaker, or a tailor, or a scribe. You might be from a family of shoemakers, tailors or scribes, but you didn't have to be. So when the time came to assign surnames, any old scribe could become a Schreibman. You didn't necessarily have to be related to any other Schreibmans. On the other hand, some occupational names were in use as family surnames long before the Russian Empire obliged Jews to use them. Was 'Schreibman' an early surname? It might help if we knew what regulations were in force governing the adoption of surnames at the relevant time in this part of the Russian Empire. My understanding is that in Congress Poland it was the rule that any particular surname could only be used by one family in any given town, and this certainly seems to be the case in several Polish towns I have looked at. In Belarus, on the other hand, I have the same problem with my Ilyutovich family from Lida as I have here with the Schreibmans of Pinsk. My own family is identifiable in the 1816 Revision List, and I can claim almost all the Ilyutoviches in that list as members of it. However in each succeeding List throughout the 19C, new Ilyutovich groups turn up that seem to have no connection to the original family. I believe the name originates from the given name Eliyahu, so Ilyutovich signifies 'son of Eliyahu'. Was there one Eliyahu in the 18th Century, who had loads of sons, all bar one of which went into hiding in 1816 so they didn't appear in the List, and whose sons and grandsons in turn gradually surfaced, a few at a time, over the next 100 years? Are they all connected, or was there something in the air around Lida that led them all to choose the same surname? Back to the Schreibmans. I have a DNA match with Andrew, but it's not very strong, and as 6th Cousin at closest according to the paper trail we wouldn't expect it to be. The matching segments we share (9cM and 10cM) don't line up at the moment with any other possible Schreibman matches I have. So, this too is inconclusive. So are the Schreibmans of Pinsk all connected? I'd love to find evidence that they are, but unfortunately I don't think I've found it yet.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

The Prayer Books of Gombin

A year ago I took part in a visit to Gombin in Poland, home town of my grandfather Lajb Frankensztajn. I went along with a few other members of the Gombin Society from the USA and the UK, all of us descendants of Jewish inhabitants of the town. We were there for a weekend of events commemorating the town’s former Jewish community, which was wiped out in the Holocaust. Several members of my own Gombin family perished at that time, including my grandfather’s two sisters, their husbands and most of their children, possibly his mother (though she may have died a year or two before the War, we don’t know), and many of his cousins.

Amongst the many moving moments of the visit, one in particular stands out for me. It happened on the Sunday, when we had a programme of walks around the town, followed by a few short films and talks in the afternoon.

The Books
It was 10am. We had just arrived in the town, and were standing around waiting for the local dignitaries to join us. A woman approached us, carrying a plastic bag, from which she pulled out a number of old, black-bound books. They were Hebrew Prayer Books, which she said had been found when her house was being renovated a few years ago. They had been hidden under the stairs, or maybe behind a wall, during the War. They must have been there for at least 75 years, as the Nazis deported all remaining Jews from the town to concentration camps in 1942.

Did we know who these books belonged to? She wanted to return them to the original family, and was reluctant to hand them over to a museum - and we had amongst us the Directors of two of the most important museums in Poland, the State Ethnographic Museum, who had organised the Conference, and Polin, the Museum of the Polish Jews, both located in Warsaw. But she insisted she wanted to give them back to the family.

She said the Jewish family who had lived in the house before was called Pindek. At that point I had not come across the name at all, and when I checked later, I couldn’t see it on any of the databases I had on my laptop. It didn’t ring any bells. None of the Jewish Gombiners amongst us recognised the name.

There was some writing on some of the blank pages at the beginning of one of the books, some in Yiddish, and a child’s hand practising letter formation in Hebrew and in Russian. A few people looked at it but no-one could make much sense of it.



Our hosts arrived, our meeting started. The lady put the books back in the bag and went off. We were busy all day and I didn't have another look at the photos I had taken.

Reading the Writing
Then at the end of the day, she turned up again, as we were all filing into a hall for some talks and films. I’m always stopping to take photos, and as usual I was at the back of the bunch to enter the hall, along with a few of our Polish friends from the Ethnological Museum. As proceedings began inside, those of us still outside had another look at the books. I can read a bit of Russian, albeit with difficulty, and I suddenly realised that the child’s writing - even reading it upside down, as someone else held the book - was that of a little boy learning how to write his own name: Lab Ran.


Lajb Rajn?

I have Rajn relatives, from Gombin. They are descendants of Gersz Ber Rajn and Rifka Laja Frankensztajn, sister of my great-grandfather. Plus, conversations with a newly-contacted cousin, Louis Kaplan, had confirmed that Gersz Ber Rajn, and Louis' great-grandfather Boruch Nusyn Rajn, were brothers, and that therefore what looked like two Rajn families in Gombin were really one. Plus, Boruch Nusyn's wife was a member of my Zegelman family.

So they're all relatives of mine, one way or another. They’re on my Family Tree, and my Tree is on my phone, and my phone is in my pocket …

There he was - Lajb Rajn, born 1901, from Louis’ side of the Rajn family. We checked the date of publication of the book: 1900. It could be him! I checked again in my notes, and there were indeed no other children called Lajb in the Rajn family at that time. It had to be him. 

As Chance would have it
I showed the Museum people the entry for the Rajn family on my iPhone - so glad I’d bought the App! - and one of them explained what I was saying to the lady, Mrs Romanowska.


She was delighted to have found someone connected with the family, but I don’t think she realised what a massive part Chance had played in bringing us together:

Chance #1: I was on the trip in the first place - there were only 5 of us from old Gombin families; none of the others was connected to the Rajn family
#2: I was still in the street, and not already inside in the hall, when she came back in the afternoon
#3: I can read a bit of Russian; I don't think any of the others could
#4: I have a ridiculous number of relatives, confirmed and potential, listed on the genealogy app on my phone
#5: I had only recently been contacted by Louis, who had helped me to join some of the dots

We had a little impromptu handing-over ceremony right there and then in the street, and a little hug. I now have the Book.


More dots joined
So we had identified the child who had written in the book, but we were still in the dark about the Pindeks. 

A few days later, back home, I was writing to Louis, who is from New Jersey, USA, to tell him that, on the Gombin trip, we had been given a book belonging to his family. While I was writing, I had another look at his Family Tree on the Geni website, and saw that since I had last looked, before the trip, he had added in some names and dates to his Rajn branch.

There they were: a Pindek married to a Rajn! Fool (probably a diminutive of Rafal) Pindek, married to Kajla Rajn! I already knew about Kajla - she’s a daughter of Boruch Nusyn, and an older sister of Lajb, the child whose writing is in the book. So Lajb's book had been found in his sister's house, and she was married to a Pindek.

Sadly, Louis also had dates of death for all 3 of them: Lajb, Kajla and Fool: 1942. All killed in the Holocaust.

Whose Books?
I suppose the book had belonged to Boruch Nusyn originally, and maybe one of Lajb’s older brothers or sisters, possibly Kajla, used the blank pages to show him how to write his name. We were told by Barbara Kirschenblatt, Director of the Polin Museum, that the book is a Mahzor (a festival prayer book), that all families had one, and that they would have been accessible to the children.

We presume that Lajb, or maybe Kajla, would have kept the Books, and hid them when the Germans came. 65 or 70 years later, the house was being renovated, floorboards were pulled up, and the books were found.

The other three books, Barbara told us, were part of a series of commentary prayer books, Mikraot Gedolot, that would only have been used by a Rabbi or other synagogue officiant, or maybe a Yeshiva student. I didn’t have the presence of mind to ask for these three books at the time, but they clearly are all part of the same collection, and we are hoping that Mrs Romanowska will agree to return them to the family.

More Mysteries
Meantime, there are a number of other mysteries waiting to be cleared up. Who was the Rabbi, or Teacher, or student, who owned the commentary books? It is probably Lajb’s father, Boruch Nusyn, but I can’t be sure as so far I haven’t managed to find out anything at all about him. Louis says he was in the leather business, and that’s about it. It could be Lajb himself, or perhaps Rafal Pindek. Again, we know nothing further about them.

Why are there only 3 volumes out of the 11 in the series? Did the Rajns/Pindeks originally have all 11? If so, where are the others? It has been suggested that maybe the books belonged to the synagogue, and that they were spread amongst the community at some point during the War in the hope that they might stand a better chance of surviving. We do not know.

There are further question marks over the house itself. It is located in Kilinskiego Street, which runs from the synagogue out to the Jewish cemetery, about a kilometre away. When the Germans created a Jewish ghetto in the town, this street became its centre. We do not know whether the Pindeks were living there before the War, or whether they were moved there when the ghetto was formed. We do not know whether Lajb Rajn and his family lived there at all. Mrs Romanowska says that her family bought the house from the Pindeks, and that she has some sort of documentation of this amongst her parents’ papers. At the moment we do not know when her family took over the house - before the War, or under the Occupation? Or after the Jews were deported to the camps?

She also says there are photos that might include the Pindeks. This leaves us wondering what the relationship was between her family and the Pindeks - were they friends, neighbours, business associates maybe? If we could see the papers and photos she has mentioned, it might help make the picture a bit clearer. We have asked.

The Pindeks
Finally, the Pindeks themselves. Rafal and Kajla were killed in 1942, but their son Bernard (probably named after his grandfather Boruch Nusyn) managed, somehow, to survive. Louis, whose mother was a cousin to Bernard, recalls: “They had a son named Bernie who survived the Holocaust and I recall meeting him when I was a little boy. The legend was that he escaped into the woods and lived out the War in hiding.”

Bernie’s escape must have been from a concentration camp, as some of the cousins who remember him from their childhood recall the camp number tattooed on his arm. Louis remembers going to visit Bernie and his family, and playing with his two sons.

Bernie died aged 50 in 1967. Louis recalls the family saying he "died before his time”; his mother said that it was from “the trials that he was exposed to during the time of the Holocaust.” It has just struck me that this year is his centenary.

Six of Boruch Nusyn’s children had emigrated to the USA in the 1910s and 20s; Kajla and Lajb were the only ones who stayed in Poland. Bernie probably knew that his uncles and aunts were in New Jersey, and he managed to locate them there after the War. Other members of the Rajn family also remember family contacts with Bernie and his family. Three of them, Arline, Lauren and Dan, recently helped me to make contact with Bernie’s sons, and with a grand-daughter, Lilly. Until they saw my emails a few weeks ago, Lilly says they thought that her Grandfather’s family had all perished in the Holocaust, and they would never be able to find out who they were.

We have pooled our knowledge, and Lady Luck has played a part, but there are still many mysteries. Maybe together we will be able to resolve some of them, and recover at least some of the history of a family torn apart by the horrors of the Holocaust.

Links to:
- The Frankenstein Trail: posts on our family's history