Preserving Our Stories

Holocaust Remembrance Day is April 8, 2013.

What helps us connect with our past, with our links to the Holocaust?

Personal stories resonate. Pictures linger. So how do we get to those stories, those pictures?

And for how many of us has time sealed off the option of asking parents and grandparents who are now gone?

Like me, do you promise yourself that you’ll explore more . . . when you have time?

Spur to Research

Recently, for our synagogue book club, I was caught up in Isaac’s Army, A Story of Courage and Survival in Nazi-Occupied Poland by Matthew Brzezinski.

The book description says, “Starting as early as 1939, disparate Jewish underground movements coalesced around the shared goal of liberating Poland from Nazi occupation. For the next six years, separately and in concert, they waged a heroic war of resistance against Hitler’s war machine that culminated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

The title had me from the get-go. I was named for an uncle who perished as a resistor. And as I continued to read, I realized the high likelihood that other members of my family, or their friends, could easily have been involved in the specific actions I was reading about.

So I started poking around on the Internet, especially during moments when the story got so intense that I needed a break.

And I discovered incredible things. About a dear uncle’s heroic role in rescuing orphans after the war.  Here was an uncle I had lived with for 3 weeks as a teenager. I had no idea.

But it was my stumbling onto the Yad Vashem site that stopped me cold. I found a page called The Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names.

I searched for my grandfather’s last name.  Then I scrolled to find him in the long list of people with that surname. And here was a Page of Testimony, completed by my uncle. In his handwriting. With specifics about when my grandfather, z’l, was born. When he died. Where he died. So much more than I’d ever known.

Jewish Genealogy Resources

If you, too, want to poke around and add some layers to what you know about your family’s history, here are some resources to explore:

Starting broadly online can be overwhelming. On, for example, the keyword “Holocaust” brings up 17,293 results.

You can be more specific with searches here:

  •   Home page description: “As the Jewish people’s living memorial to the Holocaust, Yad Vashem safeguards the memory of the past and imparts its meaning for future generations. Established in 1953, as the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem is today a dynamic and vital place of intergenerational and international encounter.”
  •  “Our free, easy-to-use genealogy website features thousands of databases, research tools, and other resources to help those with Jewish ancestry research and find family members.” Here, I found the names of streets where my family lived, with photos of aunts and uncles involved in Jewish youth organizations.
  •  “The Virtual Shtetl has been expanding rapidly, fulfilling our mission of promoting knowledge of, developing an awareness of and commemorating the history of Polish Jews.”
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has rich and vast resources for teachers and students, with personal stories, photo archives and so much more.

Your Discoveries?

What resources have you discovered to get closer to your family’s story? Please share them here or on our Facebook page.

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