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How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust

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How to Document Victims and Locate Survivors of the Holocaust
by Gary Mokotoff
Copyright ©1995 by Gary Mokotoff
ISBN Number 0–9626373-8-6

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Illustration from book: Otwock Artifact. Visitors to the museum at Yad Vashem will see that the exhibits depict the events of the Holocaust with few individuals named. This broadside, which ordered the Jews of Otwock, Poland, to raise 100,000 zlotys, lists the committee of Jews who had the responsibility to raise the funds. One person was Tobias Mokotowski. Other records located by the author determined that he was shot in Otwock by the Germans.

Case Study: The Mokotowskis of Otwock, Poland

Holocaust research does not come to a successful conclusion in a matter of days. The events in my research described below actually occurred over a period of years. Furthermore, the narrative describes only my successes and not the failures. A researcher in any discipline will tell you that in any project the number of failures far exceeds the number of successes, but persistence and patience can yield results, such as occurred in the case study presented here.

When, on September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland, precipitating World War II, more than 50 men, women and children named Mokotowski lived in the town of Otwock, Poland, a suburb of Warsaw. When Germany surrendered in April 1945, not one of these persons remained alive. Those who did not perish as a result of the atrocities committed against the Jews in Otwock itself were deported to Treblinka on August 19, 1942, and immediately gassed to their death. How does one document such a large list of people?

Otwock Yizkor Book
This yizkor book is written in Hebrew and Yiddish. My familiarity with the two languages consists of the ability to transliterate phonetically from the Hebrew to the Roman alphabet and an understanding of some basic words in each language. I scanned the table of contents of the book, but found no person named Mokotowski. I scanned the captions of pictures, but did not find the name Mokotowski, despite the claim of an Israeli relative that there was a picture with a caption that included the name Joshua Mokotowski. The necrology portion of the book, however, revealed a wealth of information. Under the Hebrew equivalent of the letter "M" (m) were the names of more than 50 Mokotowskis. They are listed in the book on pages 1069 and 1071 in the following manner:

Mokotowski, Esther Raizel, Bela[?] Shmuel (slaughterer) and their children
Mokotowski, Yrachmiel Yitzhak, Chava Leah
Mokotowski, Leibel, wife and children
Mokotowski, Yehoshua, wife and two daughters
Mokotowski, Pinchas, wife and their sons
Mokotowski, Yente
Mokotowski, Leizer and his daughters
Mokotowski, Itshe (daughter of Idel)
Mokotowski, Tshurna Sheindel, Aron Shmuel
Mokotowski, Tuvia, Masha
Mokotowski, Idel, wife, children and grandchildren
Mokotowski, Esther, Migdal, her husband and five children
Mokotowski, Leah, her husband and two children
Mokotowski, Leibel, his wife and four children

Each set of names appears to be a family unit. Note that the occupation of Shmuel Mokotowski is given. It seemed unreasonable to me that the book would include no information about Mokotowskis, given the number who lived in the town. I very carefully "read" every story title and subtitle. Finally, I achieved success. On page 527 was an article, written in Yiddish entitled "Mein Vater Eliezer Mokotowski" (My father Eliezer Mokotowski). The author was not named Mokotowski; the author was a woman, Sarah Landau. I had unwittingly allowed my male chauvinist bias get the best of me by assuming that all Mokotowskis would be named Mokotowski, and I had excluded married women from consideration. On page 73, as part of a story about the Jewish citizens of Otwock, I located a paragraph devoted to a man named Yitzhak Mokotowski. Since I do not understand Hebrew, I copied both articles and had them translated. Of significance was that Eliezer was born in Karczew, Poland, in 1865 and died on the 7th day of the Jewish month of Tishri (September 23) in 1936. Yitzhak Mokotowski was a food store owner. He was described as rich and short, with bushy eyebrows and a short temper.

Pages of Testimony
I sent a letter to Yad Vashem asking for copies of Pages of Testimony of all persons named Mokotow or Mokotowski. These are unusual names, and the researchers at Yad Vashem will conduct a search under that condition. Some weeks later, 23 documents arrived, including 9 relating to persons named Mokotowski from Otwock. They listed:

Pina Mokotowski, daughter of Yitzhak and Chava, born 1906, died Treblinka
Yenta Mokotowski, daughter of Yitzhak and Chava, born 1908, died Treblinka
Leibl Mokotowski, son of Yitzhak and Chava, born 1902, died Treblinka, wife Golda
Sheea (Joshua) Mokotowski, son of Yitzhak and Chava, born 1904, died Treblinka. Wife Zlata Birenbaum. Children: Aryeh, Yehoshua, Pinchas and Malka
Yenta Mokotowksi, daughter of Leibel and Rachel, born 1920, died Treblinka
Rachel Mokotowski, daughter of Bezalel and (illegible), born 1899, died Treblinka, husband Aryeh
Yitzhak Mokotowski, son of Eliezer and (illegible), born 1890, death unknown, wife Chava
Leibel Mokotowski, son of Eliezer and Idel Tsurna, born 1889, died Warsaw, wife Rachel
Leibel Mokotowski, son of Eliezer and Idel Tsurna, wife Rachel Finkelstein. Children: Yentl, Mendel, Zvi, Huza[?]

Note that the last two Pages of Testimony were for the same family. The first Page was submitted by a cousin who did not know as much information as the second person, a brother-in-law.
Two of the Pages of Testimony, the one for Yitzhak and the last one listed above were submitted on June 1, 1955, by Abraham Dov Landau, Kiryat Shalom, Israel. This document created a link between the victim and a living relative. A check of the Tel Aviv telephone book showed no person named Abraham, Dov or Sarah Landau. This was reasonable. The Page of Testimony was submitted in 1955. There was a likelihood that both parties was no longer alive.
How do you locate a person, or descendants of a person, in Israel? Answer: The Jewish Agency Search Bureau for Missing Relatives.

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