Category Archives: Personal

Jack Trauring US Passport 1938

When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family

I’ve written about my grandfather Jack Trauring a few times before. I wrote Remembering my Grandfather about my thoughts after his death, Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet? about his life in Antwerp and photographs of him there, and more recently discussed how his first name changed through various countries in Don’t get stuck inside the box. As today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, I thought I would write a story my grandfather told me about his life in Europe in the run-up to the Holocaust.

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during WWI, after his family was forced to flee their hometown of Rzeszow in the Galicia region of the Austrian Empire. After the war that town would become part of Poland, and his family returned there for the early years of his life. At the age of nine, in 1925, his family moved to Antwerp, where he lived until leaving for the US in 1940. My grandfather’s life in Antwerp wasn’t easy, with his father dying just a few years after they arrived there. With his father gone, my grandfather took over his father’s watch store near the docks of Antwerp at the age of just fourteen.

Although my grandfather was born in Austria, and had subsequently up until 1940 only lived in Poland and Belgium, he had something that almost certainly saved his life (and the lives of others, see below), a US Passport. His US citizenship came from the fact that his father had been born in New York. In 1884, my grandfather’s grandfather, Isaac Trauring, moved with his family to the United States. At the time he had one daughter, Kreidel Blime (Katey), who was born in Rzeszow. In New York he had three more children, Frances, Morris, and Joseph, and later another child back in Rzeszow, Arno. My grandfather’s father was Morris, and his birth in New York in 1887, provided him and his children US citizenship. It’s not clear if Morris lived in NY past 1897, when his brother Arno was born in Rzeszow, but I do know that he applied for a US passport in the US Embassy in Vienna in both 1910 and 1914. In 1914, his application states that he had been in business in Rzeszow since 1911, and had fled to Vienna after the Russians had invaded. Less than a year after that application, my grandfather would be born in Vienna.

In 1929, when my great-grandfather died, he had apparently still been in touch with the US Consulate in Antwerp, as his widow, my great-grandmother, subsequently received a Report of the Death of an American Citizen from the consulate (although for some reason, this was not issued until almost a year after his death). Up until that point, I don’t know if my grandfather was even aware that he had US citizenship. About a year after his mother received the report from the US Consulate, my grandfather registered with the US Consulate. Look at his photo in the certificate below and realize he’s only 16 years old, and at that point had been running his father’s business for almost two years:

1931 Certificate of Identity and Registration
1931 Certificate of Identity and Registration

As things got worse in Europe, he applied for a US passport of his own in 1938:

Jack Trauring US Passport 1938
US Passport issued in May, 1938

Some years ago I spoke to my grandfather about his experiences in Belgium, and he told me that before the war he traveled to Nazi Germany to try to get his younger cousins out of Germany. My family had many relatives in Germany before the war, especially in Cologne and Wuppertal, and while some of them had been able to flee the country earlier, some had not be so lucky and were now not allowed to leave. Without a country willing to accept them as refugees, it was impossible to leave Germany, and no countries were taking in Jews at that time. My grandfather and his brothers used their US passports to travel into Nazi Germany to try to get their family out.

The reason this was possible is that even though they were Jews, they were US citizens, and at the time Germans had a lot of respect for the United States, and were still trying to get the United States to take their side in the upcoming conflict in Europe, or at least remain neutral. It’s not a secret that many US leaders admired Hitler. Most famously perhaps was the father of President John F. Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy, who at the same time my grandfather was applying for his US passport at the US Consulate in Antwerp, was the US Ambassador in the United Kingdom. It was supposedly a report commissioned by Kennedy, and written up by one of most famous Americans of the time Charles Lindbergh, that influenced Prime Minister Chamberlain not to respond to Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia. It was this decision that led to the Munich Agreement in 1938, and the famous Chamberlain statement that they had achieved “peace for our time”.

So with US passport in hand, my grandfather told me that he traveled to Nazi Germany to try to get his cousins out of the country. It didn’t always work, but this is what he did:

He would travel to Germany and pick up his younger cousins. Their parents would travel separately to the border crossing, and wait. My grandfather would travel by train with only the children, telling the border guards that he was taking his cousins on vacation to the beaches in Belgium. If the border guards allowed the children to go with him, he would continue on by train to Belgium. If not, he would hand over the children to their waiting parents at the border.

My grandfather was well into his 90s when he told me this story, and he did not remember which cousins he had ferried across the border. In 1938 he was only 23, so I was asking him about something that had happened at least seventy years earlier. While I would love to find out who those cousins were, and what happened to them subsequently (keep in mind that Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, so getting to Belgium was only a temporary reprieve).

One thing I did find after my grandfather passed away was his passport from 1938. It tells several stories. One of those stories is his entering Nazi Germany, as he described.

In his passport, there are two visas for entry into Nazi Germany. The first one was issued on June 13, 1938 and was good for three months, until September 13 (on the right page):

Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued June 13, 1938
Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued June 13, 1938

The second visa was tellingly issued on November 11, 1938, the day after Kristallnacht (which started the night of November 9 and ran into the day of November 10):

Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued November 11, 1938
Visa to enter Nazi Germany issued November 11, 1938

With his US passport and these visas, he entered Nazi Germany and tried his best to get his family members to safety. It’s hard to even imagine what he felt at the time. Imagine Kristallnacht just occurred, where Jewish businesses and synagogues were burnt to the ground, and dozens of Jews were murdered. Tens of thousands of Jews were being rounded up and sent to concentration camps. In this environment you get a visa and decide to enter a country that wants you dead. Maybe your US passport will protect you, but really how could you know that?

So almost eighty years ago, my grandfather went into the lion’s den, and saved his family members from the Nazi regime. He would later make it out of Belgium just months before the Nazis invaded, by traveling through France to Italy and then the US. His future wife, who also lived in Antwerp, would leave Belgium literally with German bombs falling around her, make her way to France, and then Morocco and Portugal, before making it the US. That, however, is another story.

Thank you for three years

Today is my third blogiversary. I’ve written a lot in the past three years here, some times more than other times. I try to be useful to others with everything I write, and I hope I’ve done so.

If you have a favorite article I’ve written in the past three years, let me know in the comments. If you want me to write about a specific topic, please also let me know.

With gratitude,

Philip Trauring

Introducing Lexigenealogy – a new blog

I’ve started a second blog, called Lexigenealogy. This new blog is about my convergence of interests into Lexicography, Genealogy and Technology. I will be using the new blog to look into what it takes to build a dictionary of names, from the technology needed to organize research, to how to properly format it for printing. This will be a long process, and I hope people will find it interesting. For more information about the impetus for starting this new blog, see my first post there Combining interests in Lexicography, Genealogy and Technology.

I will continue to write for both blogs, but will keep the more technical and Lexicography-oriented posts on Lexigenealogy. I will keep the more Jewish-oriented and traditional genealogy posts here on Blood and Frogs: Jewish Genealogy and More. As the dictionary I am working towards involves Jewish given names, there will invariably be some overlap, but if something is particularly interesting for both sites, I will link between them.

So I invite you to go check out Lexigenealogy and see what you think. The current post looks at digitizing print books to make them accessible on your computer and tablet. It’s just the beginning, but I have much more planned.

Why We Do Genealogy

This is a touchy topic I think, mainly because there are so many reasons individuals do genealogy, and moreover people have very different connections to their families, and in some related fashion connections to their genealogical work.

This article is a more general view, but if you’re interesting in finding out why I, specifically, do genealogy, my recent guest-post on The Scrappy Genealogist’s blog titled Philip Trauring – How He Does It – Secrets from a Geneadaddyblogger is probably the best exposition on that topic (as well as why I blog about genealogy).

This article is partly a book review, or rather it is a book review intertwined with my view as to why people do genealogy. I’m not sent books to review by genealogy or Jewish publishers, and in any event this book was published by the University of Nebraska Press, so yes I bought this book to enjoy it. The book is What They Saved: Pieces of a Jewish Past by Nancy K. Miller. I wasn’t familiar with Ms. Miller’s work before, and perhaps if I had read some of her other books, including an earlier book on the death of her father, I might have had a different perspective, but I’ll write my impression based on the book as it stands on its own.

Of course, nothing stands on its own. I came to be interested in the book because it related to genealogy, and specifically Jewish genealogy. That background colors my view of the book, to be certain, as does my own history.

The book’s title, What They Saved, is as good as any place to start. Maybe I’m crazy, but the title strongly reminded me of Tim O’Brien’s collection of Vietnam-based fictional stories, The Things They Carried. Miller is a professor of English and Comparative Literature, as well as a literary critic, so I would guess she has read the book or is at least aware of it. I am not a literary critic, so perhaps the convention used in naming both books is some know method (The Third-Person Perspective Descriptive Method – I’m kidding), but it still struck me for some reason as connected. As Ms. Miller is a literary critic, I hope she doesn’t take offense at me pointing this out (or anything else I’m about to write).

So why do we do genealogy? It’s a question many people reading this have probably asked themselves, but even more likely it’s a question the people reading this article have been asked by others repeatedly. Why do you do genealogy? Why do you care about people who have been dead for a hundred years? What are you going to do with all this information you’re collecting? The questions come in many forms, but most people who spend a lot of time doing genealogy get asked the same thing again and again.

Before answering the question, I think it’s worth taking a look at why Ms. Miller decided to pursue her own family history. Her grandfather was a religious Jewish immigrant to the United States, coming with his wife and son. Her father was born in the US after her grandparents and uncle immigrated. Her father and uncle took very different paths in their lives, her father the upstanding lawyer, her uncle a gangster-hanger-on before moving out west and going through more life-role-changes than a Rockette goes through costume-changes. Ms. Miller doesn’t spend much time in the book on her relationship with her father – perhaps that was covered in her earlier book. She instead spends a lot of time trying to track down what happened to the uncle she never knew who moved out west and was everything from a bar owner, to military man, to small town mayor, to seeming vagabond.

It’s interesting to note that Ms. Miller’s original surname, that of her father and uncle, was actually Kipnis. In her evolution to feminist activist in the 1970s she took on her mother’s maiden name, Miller, and kept it after getting married. She interestingly points out a correspondence she discovers between her father and uncle on preserving the Kipnis name (her father had only daughters and her uncle’s only son also only had a daughter), while also remembering that her father, the lawyer, helped her fill out the name-change form when she made that decision.

There is almost a melancholy overtone to the whole book, as Ms. Miller doggedly pursues the clues to her family’s past, yet openly recognizes that since neither she nor her sister had any children, there will be no one to inherit the information she gathers. Perhaps, as she points out her uncle donating personal items to a museum to be stored, alongside items belongs to Wyatt Earp and others from his region in Arizona, as a way to perpetuating the Kipnis name, she too is seeking to perpetuate the name and her family through her book.

Ms. Miller’s book did not go into a lot of detail on the genealogical side, and indeed from a genealogical point-of-view it is a bit unsatisfying. The idea of taking a few found-objects left behind by your family and using those objects to reconstruct one’s family tree is a nice idea, but the amount of work needed to do that is not really described, but somewhat assumed in the book. As a family memoir it is interesting, but as a genealogy book it leaves out a few too many details. Indeed one of the simpler things I found was that whenever she would describe a truly significant item she would almost never show a photograph of that item. There are very few photographs in the book, and usually they are not particularly significant. In one instance, she shows the outside of an album which has no genealogical value (but has symbolic value) instead of showing the items she describes as being inside the album. Ms. Miller is of course a writer first, so she probably feels that it is more important to write about the objects than to show them. Perhaps that is the fault of my visual nature, a bias of mine, but it was still somewhat disappointing. Ms. Miller does add some photographs to her book’s website, although not that you would know anything about the website when reading the book – I googled the book when writing this article and only came across the site by chance.

So why do people do genealogy?

Some do it out of a strong desire to know where they originated. We are the product of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents’ life decisions. If my gg-grandfather had moved to Israel like his in-laws (my ggg-grandparents), his world, and indeed the world of everyone that came after him would be very different. If my gg-grandfather had decided to stay in New York like his brother, rather than returning to Europe, things would also be very different. Learning about ones ancestors, and seeing how the decisions they made affected their lives can put ones’ own life choices into perspective.

Some people do genealogy as a way to connect their children or grandchildren to their past – a way of grounding them. Teenagers have a way of thinking they know better than their parents, and think everything they do is unique and their parents can’t possibly understand the decisions they have to make. While your great-grandparents didn’t have to worry about which cell phone would run the apps they need to communicate with their friends, or deal with injuries like Texting Teen Tendonitis, they made very real decisions on where to live, where to work, how they wanted to educate their children, etc. that can help your children realize that many decisions you made for them are not so different then the decisions that were made by their parents, or their grandparents, and one day the decisions that they themselves will need to make. The details may change, but the overall decisions stay the same.

Other people do genealogy as a way to connect them to people in the past, either famous people, royalty, or in the case of Jewish genealogists, frequently famous rabbis. Saying a descendant of the Vilna Gaon is kind of like the Jewish version of my ancestor was an indian princess (with apologies to those who are actually descendants of the Vilna Gaon).

For some, genealogy is about the detective story where you and your family are at the center. Some people read detective fiction for fun, others enjoy the detective work required to piece together one’s family tree. Figuring out where to find the records you need to prove (or at least mostly prove) where and when you ancestors were born is a challenge, even under the best of situations. The challenge is a major motivator for people, and successes in finding obscure records and proving theories on where different ancestors came from can be very satisfying. Breaking through a genealogical brick wall is akin to playing golf and getting a hole in one. It doesn’t happen often, and usually only happens with very experienced players (although some people get lucky), but even for the most experienced players, getting a hole in one is a reason to celebrate. So too, some genealogy is easy and some requires a lot of experience to achieve (and sometimes you get lucky), and when you find that one record that sends you back another generation, links different branches of a family that you had not previously been able to link, or directs you to an ancestral town you were not aware of, it is a time to celebrate.

I admit to not understanding every kind of genealogist. There are those who seem to have a compulsive need to add names to their family tree, but are not interested enough in the individuals they are adding to actually verify their information. If they find an online tree with some of the same people they are researching, they are likely to just download that tree and integrate it into their own, without knowing the quality of the tree they are downloading. That’s one kind of genealogist I just don’t understand. Sure, it’s easy to copy trees from the Internet, certainly easier than adding source citations to every piece of information you add to your tree. Genealogy is one of those things where I think quality definitely beats out quantity. Partly by virtue of Ms. Miller’s relatively small family, she commendably seems to have spent time trying to find as much as possible about each individual in her tree – at least on her father’s side which is the focus of the book.

Ms. Miller’s motivations seem to fall primarily in the first category described. This is brought forth by the sub-title of the book: Pieces of a Jewish Past. To whose past is she referring? Her past? The ‘They’ in ‘What They Saved’ presumably excludes it being her past. Her parents past? or that of her grandparents? maybe she is collectively referring to all her ancestors? She explains that her father had little to do with Judaism, and she herself left almost all vestiges of Judaism behind (including, as she feels the need to point out, that she and her sister married non-Jews). Yet, with all of this, she keeps the tefillin (phylactery) boxes she finds among her father’s possession as a kind of desk ornament along with photos of her family. Did her father have a stronger connection to his Jewish faith than his daughter knew, or was this pair of tefillin kept for the same reason his daughter decided to keep them, as a kind of bridge to the past. Indeed, it’s even possible the author was wrong in ascribing the pair of tefillin to her father, for he could have been keeping his own father’s tefillin in the same way his daughter kept what she thought was his.

I think this motivation, of wanting to know where one came from, is ironically prevalent among many people who start looking into their family history as they reach their retirement years. I can’t say for sure, but perhaps this genealogy is a form of introspection. You’ve lived your life and made the major decisions that put you, and possibly your children and grandchildren, in the places they are now. You start to wonder, did I make the right decisions? There’s a lot to learn by looking at how each branch your family differs. If you start out a hundred years ago and look at the different choices two brothers made, and how those simple decisions determined in large part the different lives their descendants lived, you can in some fashion extrapolate those differences to the decisions you made in your family, and how those decisions will have an effect on future generations of your family.

Why do you do genealogy?

My motivation for doing genealogy is some combination of understanding how the choices we make have a profound effect on future generations, as well as enjoying the detective work. When my children are older, I suspect I will also want to use the work I’ve done to connect my children to their past, but my children are too young right now.

So let’s continue the conversation. Why do you do genealogy? Do you fall into one or more of the categories I’ve described above, or do you have totally different motivations? Post a comment below and share your motivations for doing genealogy.

Geneadaddyblogger

So a little over a week ago Jennifer Shoer, otherwise known by her nom de blog The Scrappy Genealogist, started a series she called How She Does It, Secrets from the Geneamommybloggers, getting genealogist moms to explain how they juggle being moms and doing genealogy. She gathered a whos-who of genealogist moms to post in the series, including Caroline Pointer, Jennifer Holik-Urban, Kerry Scott, Amy Coffin, Marian Pierre-Louis, and Elizabeth O’Neal. For those of you who follow genealogy blogging, you probably recognize most if not all of those names. After seeing the series start I jokingly asked Jennifer on Twitter, why no Geneadaddybloggers? To which of course, Jennifer put me on the spot and asked me to write a guest post as well. I don’t think I fit into the list of other bloggers (and not just because of the Y chromosome) but I did write something, which you can read on her blog: Philip Trauring – How He Does It – Secrets from a Geneadaddyblogger. So give it a read and let me know what you think. Post comments to the original article on Jennifer’s site so everyone who reads the article can read them.