Sunday, June 15, 2014


We join all the Jewish People in praying for the safe return of the high school boys
 Ya'akov Naftali ben Rachel Devora
Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim
Eyal ben Iris Teshura

This week we will mark the yahrzeits of Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen - she on Tuesday 19 Sivan, he on Wednesday 20 Sivan.  Fourteen years apart.

Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen are the older brother and sister of my father's parents. They lived in the neighborhood, on Morrowfield Avenue, or as my father used to say, above the Squirrel Hill tunnel. They were married fifty-two years, from Lag BaOmer the week before her seventeenth birthday. Aunt Helen loved saying that she was married when she was sixteen.

There was a big party for their fiftieth anniversary. We, of the younger generation were not invited. I was old enough to think I should have been there.

Uncle Joe was born Izak Josef Pickholz in Zalosce, east Galicia at the end of Pesach 1890, but like all our family's Isak Josefs of that period, was called Josef. His father's parents were Isak Fischel and Rivka Feige,  almost certainly both Pikholz. Rivka Feige's father was probably the "original" Isak Josef who died in 1862 at age seventy-eight.

He went to the US in 1903 with his father. Uncle Max had gone first, then Aunt Becky and Aunt Mary. His mother and the three youngest went about a year later. They landed in Baltimore on a ship called the Cassel and joined the older children in Pittsburgh, passing through countryside which looked remarkably like where they had come from.

When I began asking around a few months ago if anyone had ever seen Uncle Joe laugh, or even smile, Aunt Betty said "He must have." Well yes, he surely must have.

Aunt Helen was born in Budapest in 1896 and named after her mother's eldest sister Ilona Bauer, who had died in 1893 at  age thirty. She had been married to Lipot Weisel and I have no idea if they had children. Aunt Helen's Jewish name was Dobrisch and she hated it, even going so far as to instruct us that if we ever wanted to name a child after her, we should find some other way to do so.

The Rosenzweigs were fairly well off in Europe. My great-grandfather went to the US in 1901 and my great-grandmother and the children went together sixteen months later.

 Aunt Helen pretty much always smiled including here on the far left, probably aged nine.

Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe were blessed with their only child in their twentieth year of marriage. Margie too always smiled.

My younger cousin Linda writes

There are pictures of him [Uncle Joe] smiling (from the 50th anniversary party, at least). I can only remember being at 6315 [Morrowfield Avenue] a couple of times, and they were "festive" occasions. I honestly don't recall anyone being unhappy, but I can't specifically recall looking at Uncle Joe and seeing him laugh. There were always opportunities, though, as Cousin Harry was there, too, and everyone laughed because of him.

That party was apparently not a terribly formal event, as the following pages will show.  (remember, I wasn't invited.) Thanks to Amy and Larry Kritzman for finding me a copy on short notice.

 Uncle Joe was in the wholesale grocery business with his two younger brothers, Uncle Dave and my grandfather Morris. Uncle Dave was a wry and sardonic sort and I'm told that my grandfather - who died when I was nine - was the happy one, so it makes some sense that Uncle Joe, the eldest of the three, would have been the serious one. 

I always knew him as very thin, almost scrawny. But that was not always the case. Before his heart attack, Uncle Joe was significantly heavier, as in this 1941 picture. 

They closed the business when Uncle Joe turned sixty-five.

I asked Cousin Herb - Aunt Mary's son and by far the oldest surviving cousin - how he remembered the brothers. He wrote:

I have the same recall as Betty.  He was a sourpuss.  Now, My uncle Morris a jolly one, like a happy Irishman;

Uncle Dave a gentle sweet person with a backbone to stand up for his convictions. All three melded together so well in the business, but you should have heard the arguments at the weekly Bridge or Pinochle game.
They were card players, the lot of them. Not just bridge and pinocle but also canasta. The women too.

Aunt Helen was a character. During the war she was very active in war bonds and was honored by christening some kind of warship.

Aunt Helen was never bound by what other people thought. She would tell us jokes that she knew our parents would not have approved of ("What's the difference between mashed potatoes and pea soup?")  

She would bring some cooked dish when invited, but would never say in advance. Aunt Betty would say "If you'd tell me, I'd know how to plan the meal." And there would be feigned insults all around.

The one thing which was totally predictable was birthday and Hanukkah presents. It would always be a silver dollar.

Uncle Joe  always - in my day - gave the impression that he was not completely well and my mother was always very solicitous of him. My mother also worried about how he saw us. Once he stayed with us for a couple of days and dinner one evening was left-over turkey. We were not allowed to eat the bones. Uncle Joe might think we were poor.

 Amy suggested that perhaps because Aunt Helen "took up all the air in the room" - and she surely did - Uncle Joe was content to sit quietly and watch.

I supposed he must have smiled and laughed. But no one seems ever to have seen it.

The two couples, they and my grandparents, were close. All the way to the end.
With my grandson Avrohom, the week of his bar mitzvah

Housekeeping notes 
I have positively identified living descendants of Gabriel and Sara Pikholz of Husiatyn. Now I have to get them to talk to me. Not a simple matter. (Wait till they find out I want some DNA!)

My talk at the IAJGS Conference in Salt Lake City is one of those planned for their "LIVE!" program, so it can be seen by people who cannot attend. The panel I am participating in is also planned for "LIVE!" - the panel on Monday and my talk on Wednesday. As of now, I do not see any option to register for a single presentation. The cost for the program is $149 for the full week or $49 per day. They tell me, however, that speakers will receive free copies of their own sessions, which can be shown to family members.

In the last two weeks, six seven eight nine! family members have ordered DNA tests, including second cousins of three of my four sides.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Differently Every Year - Remembering Skalat

The memorial for Skalat
I was not planning on writing about the annual Skalat memorial this year, except perhaps a brief passage at the end. I have written about this previously on this blog - here and here and here. The meeting is important, but not what you would call "interesting." Pretty much the same from year to year.

We met at five o'clock Thursday afternoon, the seventh of Sivan - which outside of Israel is the second day of the Shavuot holiday.

There is a whole row of town monuments along that stretch. Maybe thirty or so. At the other end is Husiatyn, a town near Skalat which I have written about here and specifically about the Zellermayer-Pikholz connections here.  Near that is a monument to Vileika, where many of my mother's Gordons lived in the early and mid 1800s, probably earlier too. There is Pleshchenitsy where my Gordon grandfather's mother, Anna Kugel, came from. And Zbarazh, not far from Skalat, where we had other Pikholz families.

We were about twenty-five or so. Zvika Sarid led us. We lost his mother's brother Mottel Weissman a few months ago, so again we all said kaddish together. We did that last year when Mottel was too ill to attend. Zvika pointed out that there were only four people in attendance who had actually lived in Skalat. The rest were children and grandchildren, plus a few spouses. I wondered about some of the missing. I knew that Tonia Winter was not well, but her daughter always came. And Giza - she is young for a Holocaust survivor. Giza came a few minutes later.

Zvika's daughter Chava took a picture of their mother Yocheved standing next to the monument and I made a comment about the monument's being the same as it was last year. But of course, that is not the point. The point is that while Skalat is frozen in time, Judenrein for seventy-one years, Yocheved is not. She left, made aliyah, married had children and grandchildren. That is what Chava was recording. Her mother growing older.

Some of the topics of discussion at the last few memorials were not mentioned. Nothing about the monuments in Skalat itself or the money to maintain them. No one spoke of plans to go back to visit. Skalat had been planning to make itself a five-hundredth birthday party last August. No one mentioned that either.

Mottel's daughter Chanaleh had written something years ago - perhaps a school project - about the yearly visit of the Rebbe of Husiatyn, who used to spend several weeks in Skalat on his way from his home in Vienna to his father's grave in Husiatyn. This was along the same lines as Tonka Pikholz had written in one of the Skalat memorial books. Tonka herself is buried in Holon and her sister's son and daughter visited her grave, as they always do. Tonka would be a hundred this year.

Zvika read from what Chanaleh had  written, which included something about the Rebbe's friend Yosef Milgrom, on whose property there was a small house in which the Rebbe stayed in Skalat. People came from all around to seek his advice and blessings, including the non-Jews.

Bronia said that no one was left from Yosef Milgrom's family.

So I spoke up. And told this story. Three years ago, I spoke at the IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington DC, and in the course of my talk mentioned the Husiatyner Rebbe and his visits to Skalat. I spent the following Shabbes in Lakewood NJ, where my son and daughter-in-law and family were spending two weeks at the yeshiva. Someone asked me who I am etc and I said I am a genealogist, so he said that one of the rabbis who was there at the time had just written a book about his family.

I had a look at the book and saw a chapter about the Husiatyner Rebbe. So I went over to the writer, introduced myself and told him that I had just referred to the same subject in my conference talk. Across the table from him, and quite unrelated to him, sat an older woman who said "My husband's uncle Yosef Milgrom, built the hoiuse where the Rebbe used to stay when he was in Skalat."

"Small world" is a cliche, but cliches generally come from some truth. And Bronia was pleased that Yosef Milgrom has living family.

Zvika announced that he wanted to introduce something new for the memorial program. He read from the Hebrew version of the Weisbard memorial book, a personal testimony by Yoel Ben-Porath (Julek  Weinraub), as transmitted in 1995 to Lusia Milch. Zvika wants to "feature" a Skalater each year at the memorial meeting. He already told Zvi Segal that he wants him to prepare something about his father Shammai for next year.

No one wants to be the first to leave. We all hope that everyone will be there next year.

Other cemeteries
I usually use the day in the Tel Aviv area for other cemetery matters.

Gil Mordecai Scharf is a third cousin of my wife's, buried in the military section of the Holon cemetery.

He was a gunner in a tank and was killed during Operation Shelom HaGalil in 1985. He was nearly nineteen.

I went to the Kiryat Shaul cemetery to visit the two Zellermayer graves that I wrote about not long ago. Avraham's grave has his full birth name "Avraham Isak ben Zalman Yehudah." I wasn't sure it would, as his children's graves just have "Avraham." His yahrzeit was the day after my visit.

Also in Kiryat Shaul, I visited the grave of Zvi (Stanislav) Domnivsky. I mentioned him three weeks ago when I discussed the family of my Uncle Jachiel. Stanislav had submitted Pages of Testimony for two of Uncle Jachiel's Tunis grandsons and had defined himself as a relative. I was hoping the gravestone would give me a clue exactly how he was related. But it did not.

From there I went to the Yarkon cemetery to the grave of Stanislav's daughter Lydia.

That did give me some information. It says "My dear mother."

I will have to contact the burial society to see what they can tell me about the son or daughter - who probably has no idea who the Tunis family is.

Housekeeping notes
Occasionally I order records from Polish State Archives other than AGAD, when I need something for myself or for a client.  I made an exception recently when I placed an order with the Przemysl Archives - my sixth time ordering from them.

They are awkward to work with. They require statements explaining how the person placing the order is related to the person in the record, they send poor-quality paper copies by mail rather than scans, they cover up the other records on the page lest someone learn something that hasn't been paid for - and they take a very long time to process the orders even after they have been paid.

But in this case, a family member wanted  ten records on his other side, so I gathered up a few other people and placed an order on 11 September. The records came this week. Finally. One person received the single record he ordered. One got nothing. Another received part of an order. The original fellow who wanted ten got three of the ten, but also a handful of others that he hadn't ordered.

I think I am finished with Przemysl. (As my father would say "Famous last words?")

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Your Mother Went By Salomea?

No, not my mother. Joe's mother. He is where this story kicks off.

Joe's article appeared in the issue of The Galizianer (the quarterly publication of Gesher Galicia) that came out a few days ago. He gave his kind permission to reproduce it here.
The article was originally published in the Winter 2013-2014 issue of L'dor V'dor, the quarterly newsletter of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland and they too have given their permission.

From my side, the story began when the International Tracing Service (ITS) index became fully available at Yad Vashem. My first look was in March 2008 and I found this. (I redacted the address.) 

Josef Nathanson of Baltimore had inquired in 1994 about Yetta Pickholz Schaffer of Lwow, born 1880, which may or may not be a precise year. He also inquired about her son and three daughters. As I have mentioned here on other occasions, east Galician families came to Lwow from all over, so there was no telling if this Yetta was from the Rozdol families or the Skalat families. I had no Yetta or Etta or similar born around that time, so I had no idea who this might be.

I wrote to Mr Nathanson at the address listed on the cards and we had quite a flurry of correspondence over several weeks. I had not yet begun my subscription to and my friend Renee Steinig found the passenger list with the name Salomea. But I still could not identify Yetta, so I could not place the Schaffers into the Pikholz family structure.

Joe had a precise date of birth for his mother, but despite my inquiries, we could not get the record from AGAD.  So there we sat for two years.

In 2010, AGAD received a few more years of records from the Civil Records Office in Warsaw, but there was a lot to be done before they would allow them to be indexed. I paid someone in  Warsaw to do an unofficial search, from which he could give me only extracts.

The search results included two daughters and a son of Yetta and the extract identified the mother as "Jenta Pikholz, c. Salomon Striks i Szejndel Pesel Pikholz." Jenta, not Yetta. And parents we knew. In fact, we had Jenta's 1883 birth record.
Scheindel Pescha's grave - Vienna. Joe's great-grandmother.
Scheindel Pescha was the daughter of David Pikholz and his wife Szerke Kawa. She was born 1846, probably in Rozdol, and died in Vienna in 1925. David and Szerka had four sons that we know of and are in touch with a number of descendants. This is the family I call IF4.
One of at least ten ITS cards for Friedrich
Scheindel Pescha was married to Salomon Strix or Strycks or some similar spelling. It varied from document to document. They had five children before Jenta, apparently four who went by some form of Stryks and Mordecai, who was Pickholz. Mordecai had four sons in Vienna, with the wonderfully Viennese names Siegfried, Friedrich, Ernst and Otto. Their Jewish names: Shelomo, Gabriel, David and Avraham. They died in London, Dachau, Haifa and Buenos Aires and I am in contact with children of Ernst and Otto.

Otto's daughter gave me some bits of information on the Stryks cousins, but I was never able to make contact with them.

Oh, and eventually we found Salomea's birth record. She was born ten days earlier than what the family had "known."

Now if we could only get some DNA out of these folks...

Housekeeping notes
I have an article of my own scheduled for the next issue of The Galizianer.

The practical genetics course I am taking next month at GRIPitt carries with it a discount coupon for Family Tree DNA tests for my project members. Thus far three new signups and at least two working on it. Thank you GRIPitt and FTDNA!

Friday, I visited Hevron with my son Devir and my cousin Ari. We photographed twenty-two graves that were not there on my last visit nearly two years ago. (I really must get back to going more often.)  There is an entirely new section with four graves, next to the section with the old rabbinic graves. You can see my Hevron site here. I should have it fully updated in the next day or two.