Monday, July 20, 2009

Arriving in Riga and Tales of Radom

I sigh with relief. I am sitting on my Baltic Air flight from Amsterdam to Riga after a bit of an ordeal. My flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam was on Northwest/KLM, now Delta. They booked my connecting flight on Baltic Air as well. When I arrived at the Baltic Air counter I saw Fran, my traveling companion from Virginia. I met Fran doing genealogy research in Utah and after several Utah trips and a genealogy conference, feel pretty certain that we will travel well together. Fran is a seasoned traveler with recent trips to India and China. She has a comforting calm to her that put me at ease with her immediately. I, on the other hand, run on adrenalin. When things go wrong, calm is not my M.O. My contribution to our trip is my planning skill. I build the itinerary, research the hotels and communicate with our contacts in Vilnius and Belarus.

Seeing Fran, I assumed that the rest of the trip would be smooth sailing. We met up and were on the same flight to Riga. What could go wrong? First, my carefully organized carry-on was deemed too large to carry on the smaller plane. I quickly switched critical items with my smaller carry-on as the line behind us grew. Then the Baltic Air staff decided I needed a paper ticket from Northwest and after an hour passed with many phone conversations in rapid-fire Dutch, they sent me to the Northwest ticket counter to get a paper ticket. It was beginning to look questionable as to whether I would have time to make the flight. Running with my bags, I cultivated the right amount of panic and excitability to engender immediate responses from airport staff. They came through beautifully and after three expedited stops I had my paper ticket and went careening with my luggage cart back to Baltic Air with ten minutes leeway to check my bag.

I went dashing off to the lengthy security line, when the woman from Baltic Air came running after me with my baggage claim number. Taking a look at the length of the line, she led me to the front, said a few words to the security staff who again expedited me through. Things were looking a little more promising with a half hour before my flight was to leave. I soon realized that I would need every minute of that time to cover the distance to the gate so again shifted to hyper-adrenalin mode. I arrived at the gate just a few minutes after my traveling companion and learned that they had upgraded me to first class for the remaining flight. So a challenging start, but everyone was very helpful in resolving the situation.

And now after a lovely meal I am sipping that wonderfully strong European coffee with a fabulous chocolate covered marzipan treat. Ooh, they just gave me two more of them. I’m a happy traveler.

But enough of travel travails. While I await the beginning of my adventure in the Baltic States, let me report on some interesting genealogy encounters over the past week. About a week ago I received an e-mail from an Israeli relation. I had located his father last year after I spent a week in Bad Arolsen, Germany working with the Holocaust records of the International Tracing Service (ITS). From those records I identified survivors who were descended from the sister of my great-grandmother. They had landed in Paris and in Israel after WWII. I had been successful in locating them and by e-mail provided a family tree linking the families of my new Paris and Israeli cousins and another Israeli cousin who I had located some years prior.

Lior was contacting me because he was trying to obtain a passport and needed information on his grandfather. I went to my voluminous files and found the entire file from the ITS on his grandfather, encompassing 91 documents. It detailed each camp he was in during the Holocaust and his addresses since. I had also just received the identity paper from 1942 for his grandfather complete with a photo of him in his early thirties. Befriending Lior on Facebook, I noted the resemblance between him and his grandfather. I had also received the originals of the Radom Book of Residents which went back to his great-great grandfather and showed each family member since.

Lior was interested in getting some additional records from Radom. Some time ago I had developed an e-mail friendship with an Israeli who was also researching Radom, Poland. I had shared information with him and he helped me with my first order to the Polish Archives. In fact he had helped me track down Lior’s father a year earlier. I recalled there were some unique issues in doing wires to the archives from Israel and put him in contact with my friend to guide him through the process.

I learned from my friend that he had just been to Radom and worked in the archives. As I hope to go there, I was pleased to hear that he was able to be productive without a guide. He reported an interesting tale. In one small village he contacted a Polish woman who had helped another Israeli in the past. She invited him to her home and her husband showed him around town. While he was there her 80 year old mother kept looking at him and asking questions in Polish. When they told her his family name, she started talking and didn’t stop for ten minutes. Apparently my friend looks like his grandfather and one of his brothers. The woman was only ten at the time, but had clear recall about his family. His great-grandparents helped her family in the past and when they moved his family to the ghetto, her parents sent her to bring them food in return. She showed him the house where they lived and the house where they lived in the ghetto.

He also reported that when he was taking photographs of the buildings in which family used to live, the police were called. Apparently many Poles are fearful that Jews will return to claim the buildings which were appropriated after their families were murdered. He asked me the addresses of where my family lived and when I provided them, he sent me photos in very close proximity to them. It turns out our families lived very near each other in Radom.

Now off to dinner in Riga where we have arrived at our hotel. Here's a picture of the Baltic Sea.

We got to the room and I saw two packages of something yellow by the side of the bed. I thought, ooh a Latvian treat. I picked them up and they were soft, kind of like those orange marshmallow peanut looking candies. Then I realized they were ear plugs!

Not a good sign. In fact they are playing frisbee outside our window and we're on the street level.

Ah well, hopefully the street noise will blend to a low roar of white noise.

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