Volume 8, Number15 | August 12, 2007
AOL Blocks Nu? What’s New?...Again
AOL has done it again. The evidence is that few, if any, AOL users received the last edition of Nu? What’s New? The best guess is that some single word in the text offrended the AOL censoring computers. The issue started with a wrap-up of the annual conference and a description of what Paul Shapiro of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum told the attendees in his keynote address and in his talk the following morning. You can retrieve the issue at http://www.avotaynu.com/nu/V08N14.htm
ITS Records Status from the “Horse’s Mouth”
Yaacov Lozowick, head archivist of Yad Vashem, has posted his personal views on the status of access to the records of the International Tracing Service on his blog located at http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2007/08/international-tracing-service.html. They are worth reading. Some of his comments are (in summary):
* The Arolsen archives will have very little effect on the historical study of Nazism and the Holocaust, since they contain almost no general documentation that does not exist elsewhere.
* It may well be the single most important archive for tracing
individuals who were persecuted by the Nazis.
* In spite of its being such an important source for information about individuals, most Jews murdered in the Holocaust will not appear in it, since they were not recorded at the time of their death.
* There is a part of the ITS collection that was created in the first post-war years, when tens—or perhaps even hundreds—of thousands of
survivors filled out forms detailing the names of those they had lost.
* The pressure generated by Dr. Paul Shapiro and his colleagues at the USHMM, which resulted in the Bonn Agreement (2006) detailing how the ITS archives will be digitally duplicated and made accessible in various countries, wrought a revolution.
* The Bonn Agreement allows one digital copy per member country. No more. And it clearly forbids putting the copy on the Internet.
* Large segments of the ITS collections have been open to the public at Yad Vashem for decades. This is not to belittle the present achievement or its significance, but it is likely that some people now clamoring to see what is in the ITS collections could have had the information from Yad Vashem anytime they wanted over the past decades - and indeed, countless thousands of people have done so.
* The reasons it will be so hard to create simple access to the ITS collections even once they are thrown open in the various national institutions, probably sometime in 2008, are very technical, but also very real.
* At some time in the future it should be possible to migrate the ITS collections into a system that would enable the general public merely to type a name into a computer.
* The ITS collections that will be opened in Washington, Jerusalem, Paris and elsewhere in 2008 will not be the complete ITS collections. Because of their size, the scanning of the entire collection will take another few years, and their processing could take even longer.
Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews
Jeffrey S. Malka, author of “Sephardic Genealogy” published by Avotaynu, recently posted to JewishGen his interpretation of the difference between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewry. As he notes, it is a question that has several answers, but as he stated to me “it is essentially correct - or as correct as any summary can be.”
"Who's a Sephardic Jew" is a question that has several answers, all of which have validity. There are historic, religious, geographic and genealogic answers and much ignorance of the subject.
Until quite recently, Jews who lived in the Christian world (essentially the Europe that was the remnant of the Roman Empire) and those who lived in the Muslim world had very different experiences, history and religious traditions. In the Christian world, Jews were a small and unique minority, outsiders who had arrived recently, and a group that was frequently oppressed and expelled (England, France, Germany, Christian Spain, etc.), often on the basis of Christian tradition that held that they were responsible for deicide. In the Moslem world, Jews were a population which also suffered mightily but were one that had preceded - by many centuries - the advent of Islam and though a minority, was one of many other minorities. They were not of recent advent but were part of the original pre-Islamic populations. In Islam Jews were obviously not accused of decide.
Because the Christian and Moslem had been political adversaries for much of 15 centuries, these two groups of Jews, though maintaining contact, inevitably had access to different sources of Jewish information. Jews of the Christian world (who became known as Ashkenazim, although the term really refers to a region of southern Germany and northern France) followed the Jerusalem Talmud to which they had access through Italy. The Jews who lived under Islam followed the Babylonian Talmud and the teachings of the Babylonian geonim who - until the 10th century - lived near Baghdad, the very center of the Islamic world. The two groups, though sharing the same Jewish beliefs and praying in the same Hebrew, used different prayer books, developed different pronunciations, different cursive scripts and different vernacular languages.
The religious traditional difference between Ashkenazim and Sephardim was concretized when Rabbi Yosef Caro wrote the Shulkhan Arukh (the "dressed—laid out—table"), a compendium where he described what he believed to be the set of Jewish traditions and beliefs. However, Rabbi Isserles of Poland dissented and felt these traditions did not fully match those of Ashkenazic Jews and thus wrote another book, the Mapah ("table cloth" to be placed on the dressed table) which identified differing Ashkenazic traditions. As of then, there arose the formalization of traditional differences between Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
From the genealogy perspective, obviously what is most important in Ashkenazic genealogy, is not whether someone is Ashkenazi, but which country in Europe the family came from, because that is where the records and family connections will be found. Similarly, for Sephardic genealogy, what is most important is not religious or cultural traditions but which country the family came from, because that is where the records and family connections will be found.
Just as there are cultural and language commonalities and differences between the Jews living in the shtetlach of Eastern Europe and those living in the cities of Austria, Germany or France (there were no shtelach in those countries), there are also differences between Jews living in what has become known as the vast Sephardic world. For that reason, there are those who prefer to restrict the term “Sephardim” to Jews whose families had lived in Spain, and “Mizrachim” to the others. Others point to the religious similarities of the Jews of the Moslem world and that differs from those of the Ashkenazic world to group them together. It gets more complicated as - just like Ashkenazic Jews may have migrated through history to various parts of the world - so too Jews who lived in Spain have migrated to North Africa, the Balkans and Turkey, Syria, the Americas and even to parts of Western and Eastern Europe. Many Ashkenazim also migrated to pre-expulsion Spain and later, fleeing pogroms, to various parts of the Ottoman Empire. In many cases, some even became Sephardized.
Italian Jews also come in different forms. Some are descendants of the original slaves the Romans brought to Rome after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Others, maybe the majority, moved to Italy from various parts of the Sephardic world. Parts of southern Italy were under Muslim or Spanish rule and over the centuries Italian Jews migrated to and from this area.
What is important is to learn our history, avoid simplistic definitions, and remember we are all one people dispersed through the vagaries of history.
New Volumes of “Pinkas HaKehillot” Series for Germany
Yad Vashem has published additional volumes in its Pinkas HaKehillot (Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities) series, this time for “North West Germany.” It is published in two volumes which provide the history of the Jewish presence in 203 cities and towns including such major cities as Hamburg and Bremen. As is true of the previous volumes, the text is in Hebrew. The geographic area covered is west of the historical border between the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the Former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). This includes the two Prussian provinces of Hanover and Schleswig-Holstein, the four free states—Brunswick, Lippe, Oldenburg and Schaumberg-Lippe—and the three free Hansa towns of Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck.
What is unusual about these volumes compared to previous ones of the Pinkas HaKehillot series is that a large number of individuals—6,000— are cited within the text and there is an index to their names. The place name index includes all places mentioned even if they are not one of the 203 cities cited.
The two volumes contain a total of 1,194 pages. Avotaynu has purchased a limited number of sets (ten), and they are for sale at $188 per set. Ordering information plus the list of 203 towns can be found at http://www.avotaynu.com/books/PHGermany.htm
Yad Vashem to Publish a Newsletter
Yad Vashem has plans to publish a newsletter. You can subscribe at http://www.yadvashem.org/. Click the word “Subscribe” toward the upper right.
British World War I Pension Records
Ancestry.co.uk has completed its project to index 2.5 million pension records from World War I. The database contains service records of non-commissioned officers and other ranks who were discharged from the Army and claimed disability pensions for service in the war. These were also men who did not re-enlist in the Army prior to World War II. The type of information contained in these records includes: name of solider, age, birthplace, occupation, marital status, and regiment number. Ancestry.co.uk is a fee-for-service site. The direct link to the collection is http://content.ancestry.co.uk/iexec/?htx=List&dbid=1114&offerid=0%3a7858%3a0
Index to Lodz Cemetery Planned
An ongoing project is the indexing of all burials at the cemetery in Lodz, Poland. Information can be found at http://www.jewishlodzcemetery.org/defaultEN.asp. Some of the indexing has been accomplished and the search engine at the site is somewhat difficult to use. Enter Steve Morse. He has created a portal to the site that allows you to search for names in one step. The Morse portal is located at http://stevemorse.org/ in the “Holocaust and Eastern Europe” section.
Raul Hilberg Dies: Historian of the Holocaust
One of the great historians of the Holocaust died this past week. He was Raul Hilberg, author of “The Destruction of the European Jews.” During the late 1980s and early 1990s, I became a student of the Holocaust by reading many books about the event to get a better understanding of how such a thing could occur. Hilberg’s book was the most comprehensive and most believable.
It was Hilberg who demonstrated that the Holocaust was not the act of one man—Hitler—nor the act of a group of men—the Nazis—but it was the act of “perpetrators” and “bystanders” upon the “victims.”
I have read too many history books where historians inject their personal views into their interpretation of history. Hilberg tried to be as objective as possible. But as you read his book, you sense a buildup of anger on his part over the events that lead to the destruction of European Jewry. He finally explodes when describing the murder of Jews at Bogdanovca. “...At first, 4,000 to 5,000 sick and infirm Jews were placed in several stables, which were covered with straw, sprinkled with gasoline, and torched. While the stable were still burning, about 43,000 Jews were marched through the woods in groups of 300 to 400, to be shot, kneeling completely naked in the icy weather on the rim of the precipice. This operation continued until December 30, with an interruption for the celebration of Christmas....”
Hilberg was often criticized for his cold objectivity. He has been quoted as saying, “I write about dead Jews.” But objectivity is what a historian should provide. The conclusions should be made by the reader.
Some of my Holocaust survivor friends worry that the Holocaust will just become another historical event once they all die. I assure them that the Holocaust will never be forgotten—because Christianity will not permit it. If you do not understand what I mean by this comment, read Hilberg’s book.
The New York Times has an obituary for Hilberg. It is located at http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/07/us/07hilberg.html
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