Saturday, July 05, 2008

Bridging the generations

A personal note, 15 June 2008:

I recently discovered another branch of our family, consisting of over 200 relatives, in the USA. The last time that the two branches had been in contact was four generations ago, in 1914. Why is this important?

There are over 75 Jewish Genealogical Societies world-wide: 50 in the U.S. and Canada, plus in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela. They are active societies, holding conferences and workshops, meeting regularly, and publishing newsletters. They have established web sites and searchable web indexes of old records, to facilitate the identification and location of relevant documents, many of them handwritten. Some of these web sites also facilitate contact between researchers who, unknown to each other, may be researching similar family names in a geographic region.

Why do people spend time and effort tracing their roots, finding information about their ancestors, and piecing together their family narrative over many generations?

What we each do in our lives is based on what our parents did before us, and for us; and it sets the scene for how our children will behave after us. We each contribute to our families’ and our people’s history and destiny.

In each generation, when they rise up against us, our enemies try to disconnect us from this shared history. The Assyrians scattered ten tribes, which are now lost to Klal Yisrael forever. Hitler tore a gaping hole in the heart of our people: burning books and murdering millions.

We, the generation after Hitler, are the remnants, the scattered fragments of generations before us. But even when a book is burnt by a tyrant, the wisdom of the book cannot be destroyed. Even in the gas chambers and crematoria, the neshamot of the martyrs endure. If we don’t abandon them, the wisdom of our forefathers will build a better world and their legacies will flourish. We, the remnants, remain connected to our shared destiny, at least spiritually.

And so I encourage my children to cherish their identity and their proud heritage.

I also rake over the ashes of the Shoah seeking to connect to previous generations and to honour the memories of my late father Israel (“Srulec”) Lieblich (Yisrael ben Zvy) and my late Uncle Joe Liblich (Josef ben Zvy), who, as far as we knew, had been the only living remnants of our paternal line.

I was researching our family history, when I crossed paths with another researcher, Joe from Philadelphia, on the same web site (which automatically informed each of us that the other was searching for the same surname in the same area.)

Joe is the grandson of one of six siblings who came to Philadelphia from Galicia, at the turn of the century. Their father (Joe’s great grandfather), Markus (Mordechai) Bratspis, joined them in 1914, aged 61. The passenger manifest establishes that he was a “trader” who left a son “Bratshpis Is.” in Stobernia, Galicia. Bank records also show that immediately after arriving in the USA, Markus bought a ticket for a “Chaie Bratspis”, then 18 years old, to be delivered to “Isak Bratspis” in Stobierna.

On the other hand, my father told me that his mother’s name was Chaya Bratshpis. (Both my sister and first cousin are named after her.) Her father was Yitzchak, and they were from Stobierna. My Uncle Joe was born in 1923, my father in 1924 and they had a third, younger brother Moniek (Mordechai ben Zvy), born probably in 1925-6. (Dad and Uncle Joe survived the Shoah. Their parents Zvy and Chaya, and brother Mordechai, were lost.)

The documents, and other anecdotal clues, prove that the seventh child, “Isak”, who Markus left behind in Stobierna, to look after their horse trading business, was my great grandfather Yitzchak (the father of Chaya, my grandmother). Any plans for her to travel to USA was probably prevented by the outbreak of the First World War, then by Chaya’s marriage to my grandfather Zvy. Furthermore, as Markus died in 1925, it seems likely that Chaya named her third son, who was born shortly afterwards, “Mordechai” in honour of her grandfather in Philadelphia.

My own son Samuel Mordechai is named after my uncle Mordechai, and so therefore, in turn, after the patriarch of the extended family in Philadelphia, Markus (Mordechai) Bratshpis.
And thus, the spiritual connection, which was always there, has been tangibly re-created. As one friend said, it’s like the resurrection of the dead. What was just ethereal - a dream - has been made into flesh and blood.
In the coming weeks, my son Judah hopes to visit this new-found branch of our family. When he does, please G-d, he will bridge five generations of separation.

The following are the only known pre-Shoah photos of relatives of Joe and Srulec Lieblich, who survived the Shoah and lived in Perth.

Sheva Weintraub (nee Bratshpis) c1940. Sheva is sister of Chaya Bratshpis, mother of Joe and Srulec Lieblich. Sheva and Chaya’s grandfather Markus Bratshpis, followed six of his children to Philadelphia in 1914, leaving his seventh child, and their father, Isak, in Galicia to look after the family’s horse trading business.

Summer Picnic in Galicia c1930. From L to R: (unknown), Shmuel, Leah*, (unknown), (redhead- name not recalled), Ephraim*, Tsluva*, Chaim Weintraub (brother of Hirsch, who married Sheva Bratshpis - Chaim is the only person in these photos known to have survived the Shoah.), "Lum-e (lame) Zaylig", Getzel*, Shloime(?)*

[*cousins of Joe and Srulec Lieblich, who survived the Shoah and lived in Perth]

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