Gary Mokotoff, Editor
Volume 11, Number 10 | May 30, 2010
This edition is going to 8,607 subscribers
Every government puts value on preserving its history. That is why we have national archives. Genealogy preserves history; the history of a family. It cannot be done without access to records, just as historians cannot preserve a nation's history without access to records. It is a greater good than the right to privacy. It is a greater good than the risk of identity theft.
Hiring a Professional Genealogist
JewishGen now has a list of professional genealogists who do research in Central and Eastern Europe. Most live in their native lands. Included with the name of each person is the name of the individual doing the recommending along with their e-mail address. The list is at http://www.jewishgen.org/infofiles/researchers.htm.
Another source for locating professional genealogists is the Association of Professional Genealogists whose web site is at http://apgen.org. You can search their list of more than 2,000 professionals by research or geographic specialty. Some of the people shown on the JewishGen list are members of APG. An advantage of dealing with an APG member is that if you are unhappy with the performance of the professional, you can file a complaint with APG and they will arbitrate the matter. I was on the APG Board of Directors for four years, and I know they take these matters very seriously.
HIAS Has a New Slogan
The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) has a new slogan: “If it were not for HIAS, there might be no Google.” They are referring to the fact that HIAS helped Sergey Brin, a six-year-old Soviet boy and his family immigrate to the United States. Brin went on to found Google. In appreciation, Brin recently donated $1 million to HIAS. The story can be read at
Alexandrs Feigmanis, a professional genealogist in Latvia—and AVOTAYNU Contributing Editor for Latvia—has a web site, http://www.balticgen.com, which includes names of people buried in selected Latvian and Lithuanian Jewish cemeteries. He is working on a comparable database for Belarussian cemeteries. Most of the tombstones do not have surnames, just the given name, patronymic and year of death. For €25 he will provide a picture of the tombstone.
The site also includes an index of more than 9,000 Lithuanian Jews extracted from Lithuanian newspapers from the years 1850 to 1910, mostly from the State of Douma in Kaunas province. There are also a limited number of photographs of Jewish sites in Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania.
Brno and Pilsen Archives Have Online Digitized Images
The Moravian Provincial Archives in Brno and the State Regional Archives in Pilsen (Czech Republic) are in the process of placing online digitized records from their collections. This is located at http://www.actapublica.eu/registrace. The site can function in Czech, English or German.
When keying in the town name, pause about ten seconds because a secondary screen may appear requesting clarification of the town name. When I keyed in “Brno” and immediately clicked the Search button, the result was a message stating “Registers for this community are not yet entered into the system.” When I went back and gave the system a few seconds to think, it displayed a secondary message that I believe inquired if I was referring to the district or the village of Brno. Selecting the village produced results. Ignore the Signature field on the search page.
The resulting display shows whether birth, marriage (identified as “devoted”) or death indexes or records exist. The “No of Pages” field shows the number of records that have been digitized to date and are online. If images are present, click the magnifying glass icon at the extreme right of a given collection and the images are displayed.
In an act of chutzpah, the archive requires that when you register to use the site, the mandatory fields you must enter are name, date of birth, ID card (Social Security number for Americans?) and e-mail address. I provided an inaccurate birth date and filled the ID card field with question marks (?). It satisfied the login requirements.
Many thanks to Paul Valasek for helping me maneuver through this difficult site.
40 Million Pages from British Newspapers to Be Digitized
The British Library and Brightsolid have announced plans to digitize 40 million pages from British newspapers over the next ten years. Brightsolid is the parent company of Findmypast.co.uk and Friends Reunited. Digitized material will include extensive coverage of local, regional and national press across three and a half centuries. It will focus on specific geographic areas, along with periods such as the census years between 1841 and 1911. Additional information can be found at http://www.bl.uk/news/2010/pressrelease20100519.html.
Burial Site of American Rabbis
A posting to JewishGen notes that http://kevarim.com documents the American burial sites of some 700 rabbis. Included are pictures of the tombstones. I am familiar with one of the rabbis: Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta, the father of my childhood rabbi, Samuel Geffen. Rabbi Tobias Geffen was the man who got Coca Cola to change one of its ingredients so he could certify the drink as kosher.
Center for Jewish History Genealogy Institute to Be Open on Sundays
With many libraries cutting hours for economic reasons, the Center for Jewish History in New York has announced that they are extending the operating hours of the Lillian Goldman Reading Room and the Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute to six days a week. Beginning on Sunday, June 6, 2010, the facility will be open every Sunday from 11am–4pm.
If you are an out-of-towner visiting New York, take advantage of this new opportunity. The facility is a major genealogical resource because, in addition to having a full array of electronic resources and an open stack reference collection, there is access to the archival and library collections of the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, and the library of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Data from these collections will be available only by request.
All requests for Sunday usage must be received by 5pm on the preceding Thursday. To make a request, visit http://www.catalog.cjh.org, login or become a registered user, search for the materials of interest, and click the “Reserve” link on the left side of the item record. Once you fill out the required fields, your request will be processed. Should you have any difficulty in identifying materials or placing a request, contact reference services at 917-606-8217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to new Sunday hours, the Center offers research hours on Mondays from 9:30am–7:30pm, Tuesdays-Thursdays from 9:30am–5:30pm, and Fridays from 9:30am–1:30pm. Also YIVO archival collections are available Monday-Thursday from 9:30am–5:00pm.
Winners of AVOTAYNU Subscription Renewal Contest
Each year Avotaynu offers people who are resubscribing to our journal AVOTAYNU the opportunity to enter a contest to win a book of choice published by Avotaynu. Winners of the drawing this year were Ron Weiss of West Orange, New Jersey; Deborah Olken of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Robert Enzel of Washington, DC. Weiss selected A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from Galicia. Olken chose A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire: Revised Edition. Enzel chose Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy.
Avotaynu to Publish Its 60th Book—and Some Editorializing
Sometime in June, Avotaynu will publish its 60th book since we started publishing in 1991 with the award-winning Where Once We Walked. Not every book that Avotaynu publishes is done because we think there is wide interest and the book will be profitable. Some books are published because we feel they must be published. Such is our 60th book, Jews of the Kaisiadorys Region of Lithuania.
It is a history of the Jews of this region which encompasses the area between Lithuania’s two largest cities: Vilnius and Kaunas. While it is devoted to a history of the Jews from their earliest presence, it focuses primarily on the time period just before the Holocaust and explicitly describes the events during the Holocaust.
I am very sensitive to Holocaust-related matters. It began when this second-generation American realized that more than 300 members of the Mokotow family were murdered in the Holocaust. (I know of fewer than 30 survivors.) One concern I hear from many survivors is that the Holocaust will be forgotten once the last survivor dies. I assure them that the Holocaust will not be forgotten, not because Jews will not let it happen, but because Christianity will not let it happen.
There is a great misconception among the general public that the Holocaust was perpetrated by a bunch of people called Nazis. When one reads histories of the Holocaust—as I have done—you come to the horrible realization that the Nazis were not the sole perpetrators, but it was done with the consent—and often participation—of the local Christian population. After reading numerous histories of the Holocaust (possibly the best is The Destruction of the European Jews), I stopped using the word “Nazis” in referring to the perpetrators and substituted the word “Germans.” The switch of words was not so much to put the blame on the German people but more to express that the perpetrators included everyday people, not just a bunch of evil people called “Nazis” who are no longer around.
This realization that the local citizenry participated in the Holocaust has led to a growing trend among the emerging, younger leaders of European countries—the under 40 years-of-age set—who recognize that their own countrymen participated in the Holocaust—possibly including their own ancestors.
Jews of the Kaisiadorys Region of Lithuania is the first book I have seen written by a Lithuanian that admits Lithuanian Christians participated in the Holocaust. It explicitly states that local civilians, in addition to the German Einsatzgruppen, plundered and systematically murdered the Jews.
Yet the author falls into the trap that is one of the underlying seeds of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe through the centuries; that Jews are thought of not as part of the local population, but a group apart. The author refers to two groups of people who lived in the area: Lithuanians and Jews. Not Lithuanian Christians and Lithuania Jews, but Lithuanians and Jews. This was dramatically brought to my attention by the caption in one of the more than 200 pictures in the book. It originally said, “Jews and Lithuanians form the junior football team in Žiežmariai circa 1937.” I had the author change it to “Jews and non-Jews form the junior football team in Žiežmariai circa 1937.” In my request to him, I commented that had this been a book about the Jews of Philadelphia, would he have referred to the two groups of people as Philadelphians and Jews?
The book is a translation of the author’s work that was originally published in Lithuanian as Kaišiadorių regiono žydai. He took the opportunity to improve the English-language translation with additional material. The book ends with a newly added chapter: “Rescue of Jews during the German Occupation Years (1941–44).” It describes how selected Lithuanians saved the lives of their Jewish neighbors. They were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
This final chapter concludes with a sub-chapter titled “The World Does Not Lack Good People” that focuses on one particular Lithuanian Christian couple who rescued many Jews. The last words of the book describe the fate of the husband (the wife died during the war of natural causes).
“Not everyone liked him, especially because he had saved 14 Jews, and he gave refuge risking his own life and that of his family. On July 10, 1945, he went into the forest and never came back. That night, people from the forest came to his home, took his clothes, and said that he would never return.”
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