23 June 2010

Yad Vashem: Reconnecting a family

My annual summer trips provide many opportunities to interact with genealogists and family historians, while meeting with old friends and new.

On Sunday, I attended a board meeting of the San Francisco Bay Area Jewish Genealogical Society. Held at the home of my hosts and good friends, Rosanne and Dan Leeson, it was great to see so many old friends.

One new person was Israeli businessman Avner Yonai, who has been Yad Vashem's area volunteer coordinator for the Shoah Victims' Names Recovery Project Pages of Testimony. Avner also attended the group's brick wall session on Tuesday night (see separate blog post on this event).

The new Yad Vashem blog has detailed the story of Avner's successful discovery and reconnection to a living descendant of his aunt Bluma, murdered in the Holocaust.

The reunion was faciitated through Avner's research in the Pages of Testimony and the Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names database.

In a tale spanning across Poland, Belarus, Israel and the US, Avner Yonai (38) a native Israeli businessman living in California, recently connected with a lost relative after discovering Pages of Testimony submitted by his grandfather in memory of family members who were murdered in the Shoah.
His maternal grandfather, David Rybak, was born in Gora Kalwaria (Ger), Poland, and Avner recently found David's travel and aliyah documents.

David had emigrated to Mandate Palestine in 1935, before the Nazi invasion of Poland. A brother, Beryl, stayed in Poland and was murdered in 1942 with his wife Bluma (Goldhecht) in Treblinka. Her brother Yaacov survived, moved to Israel and submitted a Page of Testimony (PoT) for her in Israel in the 1950's.

Avner discovered that David had also submitted a PoT for Bluma.

Yaacov and David were both from Ger, and were members of the town's Mandolin Orchestra (photo above), conducted by David's brother, Beryl. The group performed during the 1920s-1930s; most were killed in the Holocaust.

The group is remembered in the Gora Kalwaria Yizkor Book, where Yaacov wrote:
“A unique orchestra directed by Beryl Ryback …who knows? Under different circumstances Beryl could well have gone on to become a world-renowned conductor."

This all exists only in the memories of the survivors of Ger, in all the countries of the world where they have been scattered…from time to time they feel a longing for this beautiful romantic past, that belongs to a past that is dead and buried… The Jews of Ger died the deaths of martyrs by the hands of the vile Nazi murders!”
Avner used the PoT contact information given by Yaakov to trace his family and found Yaakov's grandson Giora. The two branches were reunited at the Goldhechts' home in Israel.

Neither Avner's mother nor his uncle knew their father had submitted the PoTs.

Avner has recently launched a Facebook page dedicated to The Mandolin Orchestra of Ger, as well as efforts to stage a reviva concert of the group.

For more, and to see photos, click the link above.

Tracing the Tribe always advises searching the Pages of Testimony at the link above. Remember that additional pages are added all the time, so even if you've checked in the past and found nothing, there may now be new pages of interest.

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