For one sister, it began for me with a photo and a story from my Rohatyn grandmother. Jute Horn—Dr. Jute Horn—was my grandmother’s idol, her paradigm, her inspiration. She was my grandmother’ s aunt, the oldest sister of my grandmother’s father. The educated one with the medical degree from Vienna. The one who became the dentist. For the other sister, it began in 1998 with a letter and phone call from a man—an aged, emotional man—who pitifully detailed for me how he grew up in Rohatyn, knew my extensive and comfortably middle-class Horn family. A man whose younger sister in the late 1920’s married the youngest of the Horn sons and produced a family. A man who himself married the youngest of the Horn daughters, Bronia Horn—Dr. Bronia Horn—so she could leave Rohatyn with him for Palestine.
In June of 1990, I joined the Cleveland Jewish Genealogy Society. The time seemed right to pursue a childhood dream: to investigate stories my mother had told me about her mother, Chana Fleischmann Reiter, 1851-1939. Were they exaggerations or facts? My mother, Lena Reiter Blitzer, talked about her mother, Chana, with an air of pride that seemed to say, “you can’t know what my family was then and how many people came to pay their respect when she arrived in New York in 1913.” And mama would tell me that her mother was a graduated midwife who, at the age of 65, when she came to the US, traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and took an examination to be re-certified to practice midwifery.
I am not her granddaughter, but I could have been. Bronia Horn was my paternal grandmother’s aunt. There was only a six-year age difference between Bronia and my grandmother. Bronia was born in 1904, my grandmother in 1910. Both were born in Rohatyn, in what was then Eastern Galicia, today western Ukraine. Both left Rohatyn. For my grandmother, the destination was New York in 1914 with her father Isak (almost 20 years older than younger sister Bronia), her mother, and her two sisters. For Bronia, it was Palestine in 1936, to join her older sister Jute, who had emigrated there two years prior. Neither Bronia, Jute, nor my grandmother would ever see their beloved Rohatyn again.
When my brother and I were growing up in Germany my father would sometimes tell us about his military service. He had been born and raised in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1913, he was drafted into a Polish-speaking unit of the Austrian Army and, during the first World War, fought on the Italian front. In 1917 he became an Italian prisoner of war along with tens of thousands of his comrades. In late 1918 he was recruited into Haller’s Army as an adjutant and sent first to France for training and then to newly independent Poland to fight against Ukrainians and the Red Army. About a year or two ago, having reached an impasse in tracing my parents’ family lineages, I decided to look into that part of my father’s life and began to research Haller’s Army.
I have given my little piece a title that might strike you as quaint. I call it “What shall we tell Miriam?” It is thus entitled on the assumption that there must be many Miriams and Sarahs and Samuels and Josephs and Daniels everywhere in the world where Jews have set foot (which means virtually everywhere) who are or very soon now will be asking their parents and grandparents questions to which hitherto they have seemed strangely indifferent: What was life really like in that country where you were born, in that incredibly distant past, before the Second, before the First World War? What were these people like, the grandparents and the great-grandparents, how did they live, what did they do, what did they think, what did the places look like, what did they smell of? In the words of the historian Ranke: “Wie es wirklich gewesen.” Posing such questions is part of a natural cyclical process: indifference—then curiosity. I think it is important to tell them—for our sake and for their sake. Who will, if we won’t?
My maternal grandmother left her home shtetl, Bukaczowze, in what was Austria-Hungary and is now Ukraine, in 1910. When my friend and fellow genealogist, Lucille Gudis, suggested a trip to Ukraine together, I jumped at the chance to finally investigate my maternal roots. After posting a message on JewishGen asking for recommendations for guides and receiving many replies, we decided to employ the services of Alexander Dunai, from Lviv. Alex met us at our first stop, Krakow, which was a sightseeing rather than genealogical stop for us.
When I was six years old I entered an underground bunker which I would not leave until two years later. The bunker was built in Stryj, south of Lvov, during 1940 and 1941 while the Russians were occupying the area. A house was built on top of the bunker and a Pole named Starko was hired to live in the house in exchange for a monthly payment of gold pieces. When the Germans occupied Stryj in 1941, thirty- five people, including me, my mother, and an aunt and uncle and their son, crowded into the claustrophobic space that had been designed to hold a dozen. The group include six children under fifteen. The bunker was sealed in 1941 and we did not emerge until 1944, when the Russians drove the Germans out of Stryj.
Dr. Goldring was a very successful physician and saw himself as an example of the American dream come true. His parents had the goal that all of their six children should succeed in the new land. The oldest son became a successful musician following in the footsteps of his father. The author became a medical doctor in New York City. His younger brother became a successful dentist and the three sisters married and raised families. They all were proud of their heritage and of being Americans. They felt humbled by the opportunity this country provided. The author wrote the book during his later years in the hope that his grandchildren would appreciate and understand their roots and the opportunities this country gave them.
My mother had no birth certificate, which in Tsarist Russia was not necessary, particularly for girls. To complicate matters, my mother’s marriage certificate lists her date of birth as 1901 and her Polish passport as 1902. Neither shows a day or month of birth. The lawyers we saw refused to touch this case and those who showed the slightest interest indicated that it could prove costly without any promise of success. I therefore decided to give it a try on my own, based on stories my mother had told me over the years about her life in Satanov in Tsarist Russia.
Ulysses S. Grant. The name probably triggers memories from your high school history class: Civil War general, later 18th President of the United States. However, if you hear the name “Frederick Dent Grant,” you would probably say, “Who?” Frederick Dent Grant was a son of Ulysses S. Grant and was, for five years, United States Minister to Austria-Hungary. This is the story of how he helped a Jew from Galicia.
I was born on January 14, 1925 in Drohobych, Poland, a small city in what had been, until the end of the First World War, the Austrian province of Galicia. The population of Drohobych when I was born was about 40,000, of whom about half were Jews. By 1940 I was working in the telegraph office. On June 22, one hour after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, I was called to report to the office. As the German army approached, only one-half day before it occupied Drohobych, our telegraph unit left Drohobych. I never saw my home or family again. I survived; they didn’t.
My husband, Julius Meister, born in Katowice, Poland in 1935, is a child Holocaust survivor who lost both parents during the war. From time to time Julius would speak of his experiences in a factual manner but minimized the associated feelings. When the Shoah Foundation was collecting survivor stories, he felt emotionally unable to give testimony. While maintaining close ties to surviving family members from his mother’s side, he was always keenly aware that he was missing half of his identity. Relatives told him that all the Meisters had perished and were unable to provide any information about the family. Sadly, Julius has no memory of his father.
Meir was born on February 9, 1912 in Kolomea, a town in eastern Galicia. Galicia was then in the realm of the Austro-Hungarian empire. His parents were Toni (nee Palker) and Joseph Lederfeind; many members of both families lived in Kolomea. The Jewish community in Kolomea was among the largest in Galicia and numbered between fifteen and twenty thousand persons, more than one third of the town’s total population. The non-Jews, including those from surrounding villages, were Poles and Ukrainians.
After the First World War the economic and social hardships of the mass of Jews in the towns of Galicia increased, and raised the need to immigrate to Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). As a consequence of this need a Zionist pioneer (chalutz) movement was founded among Jewish youth that became “Hashomer Hatzair” youth movement. From an article written by Meir in “Sefer Kolomea” – the memorial book published by the survivors of Kolomea.
I was delighted to receive a third photograph of my great-grandmother Gittel from my father’s cousin. When I started genealogical research three years ago, I had not even known her name. Now I had immigration records, census records, birth records, death certificates, and other family information that had helped fill in some of the knowledge gaps about family members and key dates. I was able to determine that my great-grandparents had immigrated in the 1890’s from Korolowka, Galicia, now Oleyëvo-Korolëvka, Ukraine, the town where 38 Jews survived the Holocaust by hiding in caves for a remarkable 344 days. But this photo was a little different.
More articles of this type from The Galitzianer will be added soon.