06 September 2008

Roots Travel: Poland and Israel

Tragedy and triumph was discovered on Melvyn H. Bloom's trip to Poland with his son Steven, in this New York Jewish Week opinion piece.

Eighteenth-century ancestors, ancient synagogues, rediscovered relatives in unmarked graves, Jews and Jewish communities that are no more, a sense of loss and regret. But also, a renewed sense of connection, pride, privilege and hope.

These are some of the experiences and emotions -- so many beyond words-that marked a recent personal odyssey to Poland and Israel. What began as a "roots" trip to Poland with my son Steven, a trip we surely didn't expect to be "fun," turned out to be filled with both sadness and joy. We frequently felt overwhelmed by a sense of loss. For one sees and feels first hand not only the sense of individual loss, but the loss of an entire community, an entire way of life which is no more. Ultimately, however, what stayed with us is a sense of renewal and opportunity.

As a Jew, I never thought of our family as Polish, but for sure we are. Our DNA swabs confirm our Eastern European ancestry, and hint that we had ancestors in the Middle East centuries before.

So the notion of a "roots" trip to Poland had been very much on Steven's and my mind for some time. And so, together with several other multi-generational families, couples and individuals, we arranged such a visit prior to an American Technion Society (ATS) mission to Poland and Israel last May.

Their 10-day trip visited Lodz, Aleksandrow Lodski, Pabiance, Piotrkow, Radomsko and Prezedborz, where his Blumensohn family had lived, and Ciechanow, near Warsaw, where his mother's Antkes family lived.

Although they saw stories and names from the past everywhere, there was little physical evidence of a disappeared community, until they visited the Lodz Ghetto railroad station.

What was once the railroad station in the Lodz Ghetto has been turned into a museum, which includes some of the boxcars on which our people were taken to the camps. On the station walls are samples of the meticulous lists of victims the Nazis kept. Typewritten or in beautiful penmanship are the names, addresses, ages and destinations. And there I was stunned to come upon our cousin Hinda, sent to her death in Chelmno in 1942.

Bloom recalls services at Krakow's 16th century Remu synagogue, in Birkenau and the Great Synagogue in Piotrkow Trybunalski, built 1791-93 and today a library:

In the stacks, a wall had been uncovered where we could see a brightly painted section of the wall on which the Aron Kodesh once stood. At the top, it read "Keter Torah"…and beneath that legend were numerous bullet holes. For this was the very wall against which many Jews were forced to stand for their executions following torture at the nearby "special police" station.

He recounts their wanderings in their ancestral land, but that "our cousin's name on a deportation list was on a vastly different scale from anything I have ever read, heard or viewed;" father and son complete their trip in Israel.

The endnote states:

Melvin H. Bloom is executive vice president of the American Technion Society. Steven Bloom and his brother Bradley, whose passion for genealogy was ignited in 6th grade, wrote a joint column on the subject for the Jewish Week.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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