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< Echoes of Memory

Life Is Good

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BY RUTH COHEN

A very exciting thing happened recently. I received an e-mail from the Museum asking me to get in touch with someone who had inquired about me. When I called the number I had been given, a young man answered and introduced himself as Grant. He asked whether I had known someone named Alex Schwartz. I was so surprised; of course I knew Alex Schwartz. He was my dear uncle who had come to this country in 1921. He was one of the people in my family who sent us affidavits; he had also partially financed our passage to the United States.

Grant, I soon found out, is his great-grandson, who—until the moment of our conversation—had been under the impression that the only relatives my uncle had were two brothers who had been murdered during the war by the Nazis. I informed him that, in fact, his great-grandfather had seven siblings: four brothers and three sisters, one of whom was my mother. Another of his sisters had lived in the United States since 1932 with her husband, their five children, and their families, while all the others were murdered during the war. Aside from my father, my sister, and me, only the wife of one of my uncles survived. Grant was stunned.

His great-grandfather had died before Grant was born, but his grandmother and mother never spoke to him about the family. Interested in learning more, he spent more than a year traveling through Europe researching his roots. In Medzilaborce, Slovakia—the birthplace of his great-grandfather—Grant went to the local government offices to get information about the family but was told that all the papers had been destroyed. His exploration did not end there.

As he was driving around, he noticed a sign directing him to the Jewish cemetery, but it took two and a half more hours of driving to find the cemetery gate. As he entered the well-kept cemetery, Grant’s emotions gave way, and he wandered around for 30 minutes, crying. Unable to read Hebrew, he wasn’t able to find his family’s graves and turned to leave. Just then he heard voices approaching and realized that the language being spoken was Hebrew. Three people appeared: a Slovak man and an Israeli couple visiting dead relatives. Surprised to find someone in the cemetery, they inquired about his visit and told him that the Slovak man, Jan, comes there every year, and the husband and wife come whenever they are in Slovakia.

Grant told Jan that he was looking for his family’s graves and that their last name was Schwartz. Jan knew of the family and told Grant that their names were Yitzchak Aharon Schwartz and Reizel (Ruth) Kaufman. Jan also shared that Grant’s great-great-grandparents had two sons that he knew of: a rabbi and a doctor. Though he never found their graves, Grant had found the beginnings of his family roots. What Grant still didn’t know then was that along with his great-grandfather Alex, there were other children in the family.

Jan suggested that Grant might learn more about his family, especially about the rabbi, from a 91-year-old survivor who lived in New York City. Grant contacted and met this man upon his return to the United States. In fact, Grant did learn more from him and from other people who had known his grandfather’s brother, the rabbi Moritz Schwartz.

To learn more, Grant communicated with Yad Vashem in Israel—using the family members’ names that he now knew—to see if there was any more information available. Several years before, I had completed the information forms about all the members of my family who were murdered. When he saw those forms, he found my signature as the person who provided the information. Knowing that I had survived and that the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum might have information about me as a survivor, he contacted the Museum to see if he could find out more about this growing family tree. Through Rachel Wimberley, the Museum’s former program coordinator of Survivor Affairs, we found one another. 

Grant, his mother, and his sister traveled from New York City to our house in Maryland and back in one day, just to meet my family and me. Grant wants to write a book about his great-grandfather’s life and family. I was happy to share information about the whole family and stories about my Uncle Alex. We looked at family pictures and talked as he videotaped our conversation throughout the day.

It was an exciting, warm, loving, and wonderful day at our house. Our daughter and granddaughter joined us for most of the day, and everyone was happy to have found more people to call family.

© 2016 Ruth Cohen. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   ruth cohenechoes of memory, volume 9

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