Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I have always resisted a blog because I like to write and rewrite and rewrite etc. Blogging is more immediate and imperfect, more like life. Now, I'm writing a blog because I’m getting stuck with facebook. What’s on my mind is not really facebook friendly. Although I have craved solitude to work on my writing and am on a writing sabbatical, I feel the need to speak out somehow from my "den" which is what my husband has taking to calling my office. I have installed a large blind that blocks all outside light. I love the light but, unfortunately, my office window faces the stairs leading down to our church office door. If people see me here, they begin banging on the window which is not conducive to a sabbatical. The office is partly underground so it has definitely become den-like. It is also cooler than the rest of my house. I was going to use the Union library, which I still may, but here I have all the materials I need and at this point I need them.

For most of yesterday and today, I have felt stuck in sorrow. Every time I go into the Shoah database, I find another family member. The toll is up to three in Terezin (Moritz Neumark (my grandfather) and two of his brothers: Max and Julius, three in Auschwitz: Hans, Richard and Paul (my father’s cousins) three in Izbica: Kurt, and Walter, three in Brandenburg: Edgar, Karl and Richard and one in Minsk: Anna. This is the problem with facebook posting. I don't think most people go to facebook for Shoah updates, even though that is what is on my mind, filling my den with a fog of sickness and sadness. I was especially hit by the death of 20 year old Hans who died in Auschwitz. My son is also 20 year old Hans. I realize that there are many more whose names I will never know, but I am committed to finding the names and stories that I can.

Late yesterday, my search took a happier turn. When I found my father’s cousin Kurt in the data base, there was a page of testimony filled out by his daughter Edith. She did it at a Holocaust museum in Los Angeles and the testimony included her address. A few more google searches and I discovered that Edith had married Solomon Tenn and lived in California until their relatively recent deaths. I also found a reference to a Benjamin Tenn. Ben is retired and owns a consulting firm with a phone number on-line. I called and sure enough, Ben is the son of Edith and Solomon. He seemed quite happy to connect and got his brother Joe on the phone too. Joe is the family geneologist. It turns out that their mother survived thanks to a door-to-door matzoh salesman. Her family, like mine, was well-off and well-educated and considered themselves above lower-class Jews from eastern Europe, which Solomon was, but he had two brothers living in Los Angeles who were willing to sponsor the young couple. Due to this, edith’s parents wisely gave their assent and the couple married in 1939 and set off for a new life. They tried to get their parents out, but were unable to and both Kurt and Paula were sent to Izbica where they died in 1942.

Joe and Ben are my second cousins once-removed: the grandchildren of my father’s cousin. Their great-grandfather was my grandfather’s brother, Julius (who died in Terezin with my grandfather). I had been wondering if any of my grandfather’s siblings had retained their Jewish identity and I was happy to discover that Julius and his descendents did. Joe and Ben told me that they have always been devout, practicing Jews as are their children, who have all married Jewish spouses. When we spoke on the phone, they were getting ready for the Jewish wedding of a grandson next weekend.

In the midst of so much death, it is great to discover this new branch of the family tree, continuing to nurture and celebrate their roots, as life goes on.

And I think it is worthy noting that life goes on in their family only because class prejudices were overcome for the sake of survival.


  1. I can identify with your search. As I was growing up, I always felt that my großmutter Anna Weiß must have had Jewish roots in her family tree. She moved to Iowa from Speyer am Koln in 1910 with my Dad in her womb.

    pax, dave bühler

  2. Thank you for writing about this, Heidi; so hard and so close. And therefore all the more important to be spoken & written.