Monday, December 21, 2015

Photos From the Past

I was contacted recently by Nancy Geise who has written a book Auschwitz #34207 on Joe Rubinstein. Joe is a survivor of Radom, the same Polish town as my grandfather. Word traveled across the Jewish genealogy network when a friend on the East Coast heard her speak and passed on my name to her as a resource.

When we connected she shared a hope with me. She wanted to give a gift to the subject of her book, photos of his family. Now photos are something we all wish for as we try to recreate the sense of our family. Is there a family resemblance? Do we see kindness in their eyes? Wit? Who were these people with whom we are joined by history and biology? In this case it was more than a curious researcher generations later. Joe is 95 and last saw his family in 1942. We were aware that this was something that could create joy, but also sadness.

Many researchers have photos that survived, sent across the ocean to family pre-war. I have a close friend who is a survivor whose family hid photos in their shoes and many of those photos survived the camps folded in quarters. But for many of us there are but a few ways to surface photos post-war.

One of the avenues that I discovered was through identity papers. In 1941 the Nazis began an effort to identify Jews as their first step to murder. The identity papers included a photo stapled to information about their address and parents. Now many of the photos have gotten detached from the original identity paper, but some still remain. The papers from Radom, Poland are housed in the archives which seemed somewhat incongruous as they typically only hold vital records prior to the last 100 years. These records; however, have apparently been deemed archival.

The process to order records is initially a bit intimidating as it involves an international wire and possible language challenges. Additionally these are not records that you will find on the JRI-Poland site as they have not been indexed. I first became aware that identity papers existed at the archives through another Radom researcher. As I had no pictures of my family members, I too was quite excited to explore this avenue and met with some success in my own family.

In order to assist Nancy I first tried to identify who was alive in 1941 and hence likely to have a record. Here JRI-Poland was useful as they had the Book of Residents on-line. That provided a starting point. From a number of sources, I was aware that several family members were no longer alive in 1941 so removed them from my request. Ultimately I had a list of names with some basic identifying information such as parent's names or a birth date.

My request to the archives was written in English. I explained that I was trying to obtain the identity papers from 1941 that were created by the Germans for the names on my list. Often the person at the other end does not speak English so there are times that there are miscommunications. This proved to be one of them as it was a bit more complex to explain than simply requesting indexed records by number. After two tries I met with success. They then emailed me back in Polish with the cost to secure the records in both zlotys and the dollar equivalent as well as the wire instructions. Thanks to Google Translate, it is fairly simple to decipher this information. I then took it to my financial institution and sent a wire. As this was a fairly small request they soon sent me an email with the scans attached. If it were a larger order, I would ask for a CD with the data.

Using Photoshop, I enlarged the photos and sent them on along with the identity paper. Voila, Joe had a photo of his mother and his two brothers seventy five years after he last saw them. Nancy reported that Joe said "This is the greatest, greatest gift of my life." Sometimes research is a lot more than dry records.

No comments:

Post a Comment