Miami: "I chose life," April 4

Author Mildred Nitzberg – “I Chose Life” – is the speaker at the JGS of Greater Miami’s meeting on Sunday, April 4.

The meeting begins at 10am at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.

Nitzberg’s riveting story is about her husband who survived Auschwitz and the Holocaust and his 33-year search to find his missing brother. It also describes how her husband experienced a world of unmitigated evil and yet emerged with his sense of humanity intact.

“I Chose Life draws a picture of the struggle of my husband, Saul I. Nitzberg, M.D., as his privileged and peaceful life in a small town in eastern Poland was shattered by the inferno of World War II. From 1939 to 1945 he experienced life under Russian occupation, the Pruzhany ghetto, and Auschwitz. Following liberation from the concentration camp he worked prodigiously to rebuild his personal and professional life. Yet he was left with a lingering sense of a life not quite fulfilled, a gnawing ache that led him on a daunting journey to the Soviet Union in search of an elusive peace. He sought to find his brother, the sole remaining member of his family. Still unresolved, he returned to Auschwitz to face his nightmare years, to recite the Kaddish at that vast gravesite where his beloved parents were buried.”

Nitzberg has been collecting oral histories of survivors for many years, and has spoken to other JGSs, the Miami Book Fair and Meet the Author at the Holocaust Center in Hollywood.

For more information please see her website.

If available, David Hirschorn will also be here to discuss the latest on Yad Vashem. He is also very involved with Pages of Testimony. Guests and friends are always welcome. There is no admission fee.

Southern California: "Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust," April 11

A special screening of “Hitler’s Hidden Holocaust,” is the program for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) at a meeting co-sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County, and Temple Adat Elohim, on Sunday, April 11.

The event begins at 1.30pm at Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.

The documentary is a production of the National Geographic Channel and the American Red Cross Holocaust Tracing Services.

Before the death camps were the killing fields – mass graves of executed men, women and children. The Einsatzgruppen (German word meaning action–groups) became an organized killing machine, roaming through Poland, Ukraine and Belarus, murdering an estimated 1.5 million Jews and partisans, prior to the establishment of concentration camps. The Einsatzgruppen were created to combat those considered hostile to the Reich, including Jews, Communists,and others.

Father Patrick Desbois, author of Holocaust by Bullets, (the story of discovering mass gravesites of Jews exterminated in the Ukraine) is shown interviewing people in the FSU to gather information about the mass killings. The documentary is woven together with harrowing testimonials from survivors, witnesses and experts with rare video footage.

Following the screening, American Red Cross Holocaust Tracing Services-Ventura Chapter’s Bob Rich will address the tracing services which research the fate of loved ones missing since the Holocaust and its aftermath. The ARC assists US residents searching for information on themselves, family members, and friends regarding: proof of internment, forced/slave labor, or evacuation from Europe and the former Soviet territories. These services are free and involve partner organizations worldwide.

There is no charge to attend.

For more information and directions, visit the JGSCV site.

Holocaust: Czech Jews documentary

Several years ago, when I was still writing “It’s All Relative” for the Jerusalem Post, it was my pleasure to meet a young filmmaker and director Lukas Pribyl of Prague.

A detailed story in the Jerusalem Post was the result of our Tel Aviv meetings. Lukas and Jakub shared a Persian dinner at our home. They later traveled to Australia, where my cousins – Bob and Di Conley of Sydney – took good care of them while the young men interviewed more survivors.

Lukas, born in 1973 in Ostrava, was one of the first young Czech students allowed to attend high school and university in the US, following the Velvet Revolution.

He studied at Philips Andover Academy, followed by political science, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and History at Brandeis University, Columbia and Central European University. His interest in World War II and Jewish history resulted in a number of published studies on various chapters of the Holocaust and exhibits in the Jewish Museum in Prague.

Lukas became interested in the Holocaust as a direct result of his own family’s experiences (his grandfather survived a little-known camps) and devastation. He spent 10 years researching, photographing and collecting archive material to document exactly what happened to them. It took a long time, but he eventually persuaded almost all the survivors to share their stories. For most of them, it was the first time they had spoken.

The series of four feature-length (90-minute) documentary films on virtually unknown concentration camps and ghettos and little known modes of survival is Lukas’s directorial debut.

The four segments have been screened on their own at various venues in the past, but the full six-hour series was shown in its entirety at its US premiere Sunday at the Legacy of Shoah Film Festival (John Jay College, Manhattan). Read Joseph Berger’s review of “Survival Tales Told in Snapshots: Czech Jews Enduring the Holocaust” in the New York Times. It details the survivors and how they survived.

The survivors sometimes chuckle as they look back in disbelief. Mr. Pribyl said he felt that survivors had a sense of humor and an optimistic outlook in common. But ultimately, Mr. Pribyl said, his research proved that “the only recipe for survival is to have a lot of goodluck.”

The four segments are “To Poland,” To Latvia, To Belarus, and To Estonia.

Two have already won awards: 2008 Academia Film Olomouc – Dějiny a současnost magazine Award for Best Czech Documentary Film in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Forgotten Transports: To Belarus); 2007 Czech Film and Television Association’s Trilobit Award for Best Czech Documentary (Forgotten Transports: To Latvia).

He and his team have traveled the world, interviewing the few remaining Czech survivors and hearing their stories.

The segments trace the experiences of 76 of 270 survivors among thousands of Czech Jews deported to rarely-mentioned camps like Jagala and Kaiserwald. The documentary process produced more than 260 hours of interviews, collected in 30 countries. Each tells the story of the people deported to a particular destination, as well as a different method of survival.

Each is based on the experience of Jews sent to virtually unknown camps and ghettos – in Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and the Lublin region of eastern Poland. Almost all of them were sent to places where nearly everyone perished. The locations of Ereda, Maly Trostinec, Salaspils and Sawin don’t appear in most Holocaust histories as hardly any people survived to tell what had happened.

Read more about it at the film’s website:

It is not just that the tragic events depicted are almost unknown, even to specialist historians. Just as significant is the way they have been recreated. Instead of a detached outsider’s narrative, each film is built from the gripping stories of individual survivors, seen through their own eyes and told entirely in their own words. While they speak only of what they experienced themselves, their impressions weave together to form a poignant picture of ordinary individuals caught up in an era of atrocity and terrible violence. Every detail of what they describe is illustrated and confirmed through contemporary photographs and other visual material, most of it previously unseen, meticulously sourced everywhere from official archives to the garages of former SS men.

The films illuminate a neglected chapter of the Holocaust, as well as spotlight the tactics adopted by people who suffered such persecution and terror. Importantly, those who survived relied on many strategies including self-reliance, family loyalty and solidarity.

According to the website, it is thrilling to hear a handful of elderly survivors – who defied all Nazi attempts to kill them – who still tell their stories. It also reveals much about the sheer lust for life of human beings everywhere.

Check your local film festivals and other venues to see if the segments or the entire series will be screened.

WDYTYA: Back to Belarus with Lisa

From Suzanne Russo Adams at Ancestry.com, comes a detailed report on March 19’s episode on Lisa Kudrow and her search for information in Belarus and Poland:

Kudrow’s episode was one of the most riveting of the series, says Suzanne. In it, Lisa visits the small shtetl of Ilya, Belarus, where her great-grandmother was murdered during the Holocaust.

Lisa’s father, Dr. Lee Kudrow, always wondered what happened to Yuri, a cousin who had escaped to Poland and who told about Lisa’s great-grandmother’s death. Yuri was never heard from again.

On a visit to Gdynia, Poland, to discover Yuri’s true fate, Lisa is shocked to learn that Yuri was still alive! Despite the tragic history, there is a beautiful reunion between two families separated by the Holocaust.

If you missed the episode, watch it here. (CAVEAT: Unfortunately, the link only works in the US, and not in Hong Kong or Australia, where I most recently attempted to watch it via online links.)

Suzanne provides tips (additional comments by Tracing the Tribe are included) for those curious about how the team of genealogists for this episode found out more about Lisa’s Jewish family.

Here are resources to help newcomers better understand Jewish family history research.

Go-to resources: U.S. passenger lists, Yad Vashem, Ancestry.com, JewishGen.org

How they helped: Lisa Kudrow’s US family heard about her great-grandmother’s death from a cousin named Yuri who visited Lisa’s dad and grandmother in the late 1940s. Lisa’s research goal is to discover where her great-grandmother was buried and learn more about Yuri. Her visit to Belarus and online resources help her achieve that goal.

Resource #1: List of Jews murdered in Ilya massacre
Lisa’s family knew her great-grandmother was killed, but through a list of victims in Ilya, she sees the proof. Written next to her name are the words “killed and burned.”

Resource #2: Yizkor book: “A Tale of Struggling, Toil, and Tears,” by David Rubin
While visiting Ilya, Lisa reviews a translated Yizkor (memorial) book about the massacre of 900 Jews in March 1942. The town’s Jewish population came to an end that day. Lisa walks the same path her great-grandmother was forced to walk 68 years ago. At the gravesite is a memorial to the murdered Jews.

Resource #3: Passenger list
Looking for some positive news on her trip, Lisa turns her search toward the one relative she knows survived – Yuri – who visited her father in the late 1940s. An Ancestry passenger list shows a man with the same surname but the given name Boleslaw. Are Yuri and Boleslaw the same person?

Resource #4: Registry card
In Gdynia , Poland, Lisa sees Boleslaw’s city registry card. Yuri changed his name to a Polish name for assimilation. His wife and son are registered.

Resource #5: Phone directory
The phone director lists Boleslaw, who is still alive.

Weren’t Eastern European records all destroyed?
The records from Eastern Europe that Lisa’s family found aren’t uncommon. Although millions of Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, records did survive.

Are you following US Jewish lines? Follow step -by-step through the US, including census records, passenger lists, citizenship records, vital records and more at various sites such as Ancestry and Footnote.com. Once you’ve found all the US records, then jump to European records.

Learn about your family’s towns and villages, immigration data and clues to other relatives.

Check out sites such as JewishGen for a town’s Yizkor book or its Special Interest Groups (SIGs), Yad Vashem for other Holocaust-related documents, Ancestry’s holdings, Footnote.com’s Holocaust collection (and other records), the Ancestry.com Jewish Family History Collection, and, of course, Tracing the Tribe: The Jewish Genealogy Blog.

Never give up, and keep searching.

Holocaust: Galician deportation films now online

The Museum of Family History’s Film Series short films will be online through April 4.

The first film incorporates three geographic locations; one is allegedly a Galician village during he war. The last 90 seconds appears to be the deportation from the Lodz Ghetto.

Steve Lasky of the Museum of Family History is asking Tracing the Tribe readers for confirmation of these details:

“While watching the end of this film, I felt that I was in the railroad car as people were boarding.

“It’s one thing to read about the deportations, or see still photos, or even see films about the Lodz Ghetto, but another to see actual footage.

“I am hoping that someone who once lived in these areas or is otherwise familiar with the landmarks in these towns will be able to identify the town.”

If you can do this for Steve, he will send another post and inform everyone.

Also, while it is unlikely that readers may recognize anyone in the film, one never knows, so do take a look.

The 8 1/2-minute clip name is “Deportations of Jews” (aka “Deportation to the Death Camps”), and was allegedly shot by a Nazi cameraman.

The second film is 3 1/2-minutes and shows deportation of Jews to the Krakow Ghetto. The title is “Deportation to the Krakow Ghetto.”

Take a look at both clips. If you can help Steve, send him an email. You can also access Steve’s blog.

USHMM: Soviet Jewish officers and Germany, March 18

“Jewish Revenge? Soviet Jewish Officers’ Encounters with Germany, 1945” is the 2010 Ina Levine lecture at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Thursday, March 18, in Washington DC.

It starts at 7pm in the Helena Rubinstein Auditorium, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW.

Professor Oleg Budnitskii will present his work on Soviet Jewish identity through the lens of the Soviet Jewish military experience of World War II.

In Moscow, Budnitskii is: Senior research fellow, Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences; academic director, International Center for Russian and Eastern European Jewish Studies: and professor of history, Department of Jewish Studies, Institute of Asian and African Studies, Moscow State University.

The author of numerous works, he most recently published (2008) Den’gi russkoi emigratsii: Kolchakovskoe zoloto, 1918-1957 (Money of the Russian Emigration: Kolchak’s Gold, 1918-1957) and (2005) Rossiiskie evrei mezhdy krasnymi i belymi, 1917-1920 (Russian Jews between the Reds and the Whites, 1917-1920) of which an English translation is being published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

For more information or to register, click here. To learn about past presentations and hear recordings, click here.

Sacramento: Making connections, March 21

Holocaust survivor Liz Igra will speak on “Connections Small and Grand,” at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento, California, on Sunday, March 21.

The program starts at 10am, at the Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright St., Sacramento, California.

Born in Krakow, Liz and her mother escaped from the Czorkow ghetto in October 1942, hid on false papers, crossed the Carpathian Mountains on foot, spent time in a Budapest jail and were released, and again went into hiding when Germany took control of Hungary.

They were liberated in 1945 and returned to Poland to find only one other member of their family. After time in Poland and France, the women immigrated to Australia and then to the US in 1968.

Liz has been an elementary and high school teacher, administrator, workshop presenter and helped start Sacramento’s Shalom School.

For 20 years, she has spoken in many classrooms and at teacher conferences. Many teachers confirmed her personal observations, that even the best seminars do not equip teachers to meet the challenges of teaching about the Holocaust.

To help change that, Liz founded the Central Valley Holocaust Educators’ Network. She hopes her story will lead to a better understanding of the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned.

Click here for more information about the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento.