This is the story of seven women, all relatives of mine, who survived the German invasion of Belgium together through a crazy trip starting in Antwerp, passing through France, Morocco, Portugal, and ending in New York. I’ve written in the past about my grandfather (When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family) and his time before making it the US during WWII. I’ve always wanted to write about my grandmother’s journey, but lacked the documentation to visually tell the story. I now think I have enough to tell the story properly (if not completely).
My grandparents and their families knew each other in Poland, and then in Belgium, but my grandparents didn’t marry until 1943, when both had made it to New York. While their families followed similar paths for many years, at least one portion of their stories took a very different turn.
My grandmother was born Lipka Kleinhaus in 1922 in Rzeszów, Poland. She was the youngest of six children, her oldest sister nineteen years her senior. Her closest sibling in age, her brother Nusen, was ten years older than her. Like my grandfather’s family, her family found their way to Antwerp, Belgium in the 1920s. Once there, they entered the diamond business following a relative who had arrived earlier.
Some documentation of the family’s stay in Belgium can be found in the files of the Belgian Police des Étrangers which I’ve lectured on in the past. If you had family that lived in Belgium, see my Belgium page on where records can be found. The photo below, for example, came from one of the Police des Étrangers files.
One of the first things I always recommend to those getting started in genealogy is to collect as many family photographs as possible, from the oldest relatives you know, and try to identify everyone in the photographs. There may be a time that you won’t be able to ask who the people in your family photos are, and if you don’t find out who has old family photos, they may end up being thrown out at some point. If you do have a photo, but no way to identify the person or person in the photo, there is an approach you can take that may help you to figure it out.
In one of my earliest posts (Genealogy Basics: Up, Down and Sideways) I describe why it’s important to track down collateral relatives, such as finding all the descendants of your oldest known ancestor. Besides building out your tree, these people may end up knowing more about your common ancestors than you do. Even a small piece of information, such as the town someone was born in, can help break down genealogical brick walls. Similarly, those distant relatives may actually have the same photograph you have, and they may know who is in it.
When I started collecting family photos, my grandfather gave me a set of three large glass slides that his uncle had given him. One slide had two photos on it, of the same family, one with them wearing hats, and one without hats. I had an idea of who was in those family photos, and later confirm it. The other two slides were individual portraits of a man and a woman. I did not know who they were, and neither did my grandfather. This is what the negatives looked like:
For those unaware, this site has a set of genealogy forms that you can fill out on a computer, or print out to be filled out by hand. I find this is a great way to get started with genealogy, and these forms are also helpful for sending out to relatives to be filled out and returned. These forms are designed to work together in useful ways. One form that is particularly useful is the US Immigrant Census Form, which was released all the way back in 2011. This form has fields for the useful genealogy information that you can extract from US Census records during the critical turn-of-the-century period of mass immigration to the US. When the original form was created, the 1940 Census had not yet been released, so it only covered the censuses between 1880 and 1930. This updated form adds a column for 1940.
My 2011 article on Jewish gravestone symbols has long been one of the most popular posts on this web site. In that article, I discuss the symbols found on Jewish gravestones, but not the text. I wrote in the first paragraph that I will likely write about the text at some point in the future. Unfortunately, I waited nine years to do so, but here’s a look at some of the Hebrew text you might find on a Jewish gravestone, and how to decipher it.
We should get some terminology out the way. We’re talking about Hebrew inscriptions on gravestones. In Hebrew we call the grave a קבר kever, and the gravestone itself a מצבה matseva (lit. monument). There isn’t a particularly good Hebrew word for epitaph (the inscription), it’s just הכתובת על המצבה the writing on the gravestone. We do use the word הספד hesped for eulogy, and you can think of some of the inscription to be a eulogy. As this is intended as an introduction to this topic, I’ll simply use the English terms most of the time.
For those who want to print this out, I’ve created a parallel version that will print nicely, and you can download it as a PDF.
As this is a long article with lots of sections, I’ve added a table of contents below that will let you jump to a particular section if you want. The sections generally follow the order that these items would show up in the inscription.
It has been announced that that site will be replaced by szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl. The date for that transition has not been announced yet, but hopefully they will not do so before you can do everyone on the new site that you can do on the old site. I’m going to discuss two issues I have with the new site, one very significant, and one perhaps less so, but that still bothers me quite a bit.
You can’t get the same search results
As it currently stands, the new site cannot do the same kinds of searches as the old site. I pointed people to szukajwarchiwach.pl because I was able to show the exact same results from searches on both PRADZIAD and szukajwarchiwach.pl, even if the results were in a different order and format. It does not seem possible to do the same kind of searches on szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl.
For example, in my earlier article, I wrote about searching for all Jewish civil registers (birth, marriage, divorce, death, etc.). Both PRADZIAD and szukajwarchiwach.pl returned 3303 results:
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