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December 1, 2015 / 19 Kislev, 5776
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Shtetl Research

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        Last week I wrote about going to Nowy Zukowice, the town my grandfather came from. As I mentioned, it is a very small town, hard to find on most maps. Even though there is no sign of the Jewish community that lived there before the Shoah, it was still very interesting to walk down the lanes, meet the people and see the places where my zaidy lived as a child.


         Nowy Zukowice, is one of those shtetlach of which there is no Yizkor Book and almost no mention of in Holocaust chronicles. (In Where We Once Walked, Nowy Zukowice is mentioned as having 52 Jews in 1939.) But Nowy Zukowice is only one of thousands of such towns in Poland, which is dotted with towns that once had a Jewish community, and about which very little is known today.


         Since I started writing this column I have received requests about many locations. Have I been to .? Or to .. ? Is there anything left? Just this past week I have had inquiries into three shtetlach that I had never heard of before but was able to give some information from the various reference books I keep on my desk.


         But often that is not enough. People want to see what the town is like today. What the condition is  of the cemetery or synagogue.


         In recent years there have been many organized trips to Poland by families and groups to return to the old shtetl, and many Internet sites have been built around the pictures and stories that people have brought back from their travels.


         But there are many people that cannot or will not make the trip. There are many reasons that people don’t go to Poland. First the cost can be prohibitive. But more importantly, for many survivors, the trip would be very emotional, bringing back memories of the horrors of the Holocaust. There is also the age factor; as the survivors grow older it is harder for them to travel and often when they do travel they would rather go to a happier place.


         In small towns it is not unusual for visitors to find Pre-War buildings that can help them visualize what life was like for their antecedents. The rickety buildings, old woodpiles, wells, and the chickens all evoke memories of a time over 60 years ago.


         But the small shtetl is not the only place of interest. While much research has been done in the years since the fall of Communism, there is still a need for a search of personal histories in the larger towns and cities. Often I have been asked to try to locate an address of a house, business, street, park or market square.


         At the end of August, I will be returning to Poland to participate in the dedication of three Ohalim (burial chambers of tzaddikim) in a cemetery in Piotrkow, as well as the Jewish festival in Warsaw etc. During my stay I will have time for travel and research in shtetlach around the country, as well as the various archives.


         For those interested, I am willing to travel to, photograph and video whatever still remains. This can include synagogue buildings, cemeteries, the local architecture, people and everyday life.


         I will be able to research any pertinent information in the archives. For instance, in the past, I was able to find specific family information. I have been able to confirm a Pre-War address by looking up tax records or old telephone books. If a parent survived the war in Poland and registered him/herself as a survivor, possibly, I will be able to find the original registration card and bring back a copy. Often these cards contain information such as parents’ names, Polish addresses, occupations, level of education and many more little-known items.


         For more information on how I can help you research a specific shtetl or town in Poland, contact Shmuel Ben Eliezer at Bshir3@aol.com.

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