Inspiration

The Family I Never Knew: My Jewish Genealogy Journey

July 24, 2014

body_oldMy mother, a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, a Death March, the sole survivor of her immediate family, returned her precious neshama to Hashem on the morning of the 12th of Tammuz. Just shy of two weeks ago, in mortal time.

Standing by her bedside, my husband and I shouted “Shema,” “Boruch Shem Kovod” three times, and “Hashem Hu HaElokim” seven. Just like Neilah. It felt like Neilah. The gates were closing, ushering in my precious Mommy.

Everyone present hurried out of the room to set the lavaya and kevura preparations in motion. I stayed put, my mother’s first shomeret. “Mom, I’m here,” I said. I felt an ethereal, loving calm wash through me. Unlike anything I had ever felt. Was it my mother’s beautiful neshama reassuring me that she was at last at peace?

My mother emerged from the Holocaust a broken human being, left to face her shattered world alone. I kept her sorrow my constant companion. It was the way I knew how to be in the world, and to feel close to her. I would do it all again, to protect her from her pain, no matter how futile a task.

I remember asking my mother as a very young child why I didn’t have grandparents like the other children I knew. My innocent inquiry only served to poke the wound. I stopped asking. With parents who spoke little about their painful past, I had skeletal knowledge of my ancestry. I resigned myself to a constant undercurrent of disconnection.

Until recently.

Earlier this year, while sick with the flu, I decided to make the most of my downtime and try my hand at the plethora of Jewish genealogical search sites. I started with Yad Vashem’s extensive database. My eyes froze at the name Chaskiel Kochman, handwritten by a Holocaust survivor on a document of testimony, apparently shortly after the war. Chaskiel was my father’s uncle, my bubby Bayla Sheva’s older brother. I felt my world expand.

This past week, I revved up my ancestry search again. This time I logged onto JewishGen.org’s Worldwide Burial Registry. I discovered the date of my uncle’s passing, July 22, 1944, as well as the exact location of his grave. I plan to honor his yahrtzeit this coming Monday evening, 2 Av, and hope to someday visit his gravesite in Lodz. I am likely the first relative to have the information and awareness to do so.

It’s been an intense time of family connection. My sweet mother reunites with the family she missed for a lifetime, and I am welcoming my Uncle Chaskiel’s presence in my life, and in my heart. I intend to send them both holy peckalach via acts of merit in their names.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my quest to reclaim lost relatives.

I would like to interview other individuals who uncovered family they never knew for a feature in an upcoming issue of Jewish Action, the OU’s popular quarterly magazine. If you are involved in a genealogical research, or know of someone who is, please contact me at brennerbs@ou.org. Let’s celebrate these treasured links together.