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JRI POLAND ANNOUNCES ITS FIRST MILLION:
ONE MILLION RECORDS RECAPTURED, ONE MILLION LIVES REMEMBERED

NEW YORK—April 25, 2001—Countering the widespread perception that records of Polish Jews did not survive the Holocaust, Jewish Records Indexing (JRI)-Poland announced today that it has reached its first million records—the first milestone of many to follow—allowing the potential for countless Jewish families with roots in Poland to gather information about lost family members through civil birth records, marriage and death certificates.

JRI-Poland, founded in early 1995 by Stanley Diamond of Montreal, Michael Tobias of Glasgow and Steven Zedeck of Nashua, NH, now has more than 400 volunteers worldwide. It offers the modern world indices to the vital Jewish records of Poland via the Internet—the first resource for more than 175 towns and villages in 19th Century Poland, indexed and available through the JRI Poland web site found at www.jewishgen.org/jri-pl.

 

RECOVERING GENERATIONS LOST

But indexing of the first million records is only the beginning. By 2039, when a century has elapsed since the Holocaust began in Poland, JRI-Poland hopes to uncover more than nine million records from Polish archives. JRI Poland—a non-profit U.S. organization dedicated to families around the world in search of missing history—has two primary resources that it has already utilized to reach its one-millionth record. These include microfilms of records in the Polish State Archives (PSA), microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) and Polish State Archives Records—Direct, which typically include additional non-microfilmed Jewish records from the years 1875 to 1900.

Until JRI-Poland, these vital records from the last decades of the 19th century had not been available outside of Poland, and to search them meant commissioning a search by the Polish State Archives or a private researcher. But, because marriages were often between spouses of different towns, following a family’s 19th century trail was often impossible and usually very expensive.

A search of the JRI Poland database now yields indices to records held in Warsaw’s Jewish Historical Institute, as well as lists of and surviving cemetery records and gravestones. Due to be launched soon in a cooperative effort between JRI-Poland and JewishGen is a project to index the 2,500-page 1929 Polish Business Directory

All of these are proving to be exciting new sources of never-before-seen Jewish records, extending well into the 20th century. For most family historians, this will be their first glimpse into the Jewish world in Poland as it existed on the eve of the Holocaust and the key to retracing their family’s footsteps.

 

BEGINNING WITH ONE MILLION

Diamond helped conceive this project as an outgrowth of his own genetic-related research and has located many surviving branches of his own family through the JRI-Poland indices. (See Appendix.) "Our one millionth mark is an exciting milestone," Diamond emphasized, "but along the way the extraordinary JRI-Poland database has not only aided countless researchers, but has vividly demonstrated what can be accomplished through the cooperative energy of global volunteers. We are very proud that it has become an inspiration and model for indexing projects covering other geographic areas.

"This is only the beginning for JRI-Poland. We are determined to index every one of the millions of available records within a century after the Holocaust, and through the generosity of donors around the world, we may be able to reach this milestone even sooner. What better way to enrich the fabric of our lives now, than to revive the memories of our people’s past in Poland and rescue their names from oblivion—it's more than a Jewish moral obligation, it’s a human project—a human obligation," Diamond added.

 

JEWISH INDICES AT YOUR FINGERTIPS

Today, available resources—about individual Jews and Jewish families that lived in Poland—have dramatically expanded through the help of JRI-Poland and the relationships the organization has formed with many record sources. Jewish people around the world are now able to utilize online indices to archival records to find out about their family history in Poland. While these searches may begin with information as far back as the 1700s, they forge connections with more recent generations, helping many ultimately to discover and remember those family members lost in the Holocaust. The one million individuals that JRI-Poland has revealed to date include brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents of Jews around the world today. Many are from a generation whose memory was consigned to oblivion by the Nazis. Before their records were indexed by JRI-Poland, they could not even be remembered or memorialized as so many of them now subsequently have.

JRI-Poland has received international acclaim, both for its research tools for Jewish families seeking connections to lost relatives, as well as for their impact on medical research. The potential benefit of the database for Ashkenazic families trying to trace their medical histories, particularly those at increased risk for hereditary conditions and diseases, is immeasurable. When North Carolina resident Dr. Jeffrey Bornstein was diagnosed with leukemia and a bone-marrow match could not be found in his immediate family, JRI-Poland, with the full cooperation of the Polish State Archives, swung into action to accelerate the indexing of the records of Lodz, where Jeffrey's ancestors had lived prior to immigrating to Canada.

 

BUILDING JRI-POLAND

JRI-Poland relies on the generosity of donors—both volunteers and financial contributors—for the continuation of this unprecedented global project. The organization has formed alliances with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation Genealogy Project (RLF) at the Jewish Historical Institute (JHI) in Warsaw, the Douglas E. Goldman Jewish Genealogy Center, Tel Aviv, the Warsaw and Lodz cemeteries, and the Kielce-Radom Special Interest Group - a list that JRI-Poland seeks to expand. For more information on how to use the JRI-Poland site or to contribute to the JRI-Poland project either through volunteer hours and/or financial contributions, please contact Stanley Diamond, Project Director at 514-484-0100 or SMSDiamond@aol.com.

 

THE STORIES BEHIND THE RECORDS

The following testimonials illustrate the power of these one million indexed records. Finding lost relatives has had an impact on the lives of Shirley Rotbein Flaum and Judy Baston (See Attachment A). It exhibits the power of JRI-Poland to change one’s family tree, remembering a life and recovering a piece of history through the JRI indices.

 

Attachment A

JRI-Poland Case Studies

Shirley Rotbein Flaum

Hope Fulfilled: A Second Generation Holocaust Survivor Discovers Her Family

I was born the only child of two Holocaust survivors, in a household where the mention of lost family was a painful subject. I learned at an early age that the mention of family from before "the war" was taboo, a fact silently acknowledged among the three of us. I was told that, at age six, I began asking why I did not have grandparents like other children, but I don’t remember this, or ever daring to ask about family members after that. In the sixties, when so many documentaries came out on the subject of World War II, with the inevitable footage of piles of twisted bodies found in liberated concentration camps, we three would sit in front of the television in silence. For all I knew, the world could have started with my parents because I knew nothing about who came before them. There were no photographs to prove otherwise.

At age seventeen, I gently broke this longstanding taboo by asking my father to sit down and tell me the names of his family members. I wrote as he spoke their names: seven sisters, three brothers, parents, two maternal grandparents, his father’s brothers (Henoch and Avram), a handful of nieces and nephews, most of whom were new to me. He was one of sixteen siblings and the youngest, he said; five died in infancy. He didn’t remember many of the names; most likely they were blocked from his memory, along with almost everything else from his former life. "We were Chassids. My grandfather was a rabbi and everyone else going back was a rabbi," he explained. An ancestor had written an important book on Jewish law, he said. "My sister’s son Jakob Parzenczewski was mentioned in a book about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. I was an electrician and we had an electrical supply store in Lodz. I was the only survivor," he finished quietly, and that was the end of his statement. I dared not pursue the subject further. But, at least I had the names, about twenty of them. I placed the sheet of paper in a box where I kept special things and there it remained, untouched, for the next twenty-six years.

A couple of years after I married in 1978, I discovered by accident that my father had been married before the war. It was a slip of the tongue by one of his friends. The news was devastating, a shock of immense proportion. I phoned my father that evening. "Yes, it’s true," he said. There was a child, a girl. "Why are you crying, ketzele? It was a long time ago," he said quietly. "They went to the left and I went to the right" (referring to the selection at Auschwitz). The subject was never brought up again. Whatever else my father knew, he took to the grave in 1981.

After recovering from a serious illness in 1997, I decided that a trip to Israel was in order. After one seeming coincidence after the other, I made some stunning discoveries at Yad Vashem’s Archives: detailed records of my father’s war experience were still in existence, the number tattooed on his arm (which I had neglected to write down before his death); the names and birth dates of his first wife and child were listed in the Lodz ghetto records, and so was my grandmother (now I knew she died in the ghetto); there were survivors with his uncommon surname from the same general area in Poland. There were dozens of records and I couldn’t get my hands on enough of them. I copied each one and kept them like a treasure. I could finally dare to hope that some family member might be alive, but it was too frightening a thought to entertain just yet.

I returned home with my treasures, and spent hours studying them for clues and digesting them. I bumbled my way onto the Internet and found Jewish genealogy sites. Over the next month, I spent every day and night teaching myself Jewish genealogy non-stop. Something had overcome my very being and dared to give me hope: if there was a family member alive somewhere in the world, I had to find him. After some detective work, I found and contacted someone in Israel with the right surname and quickly received a letter in reply: His name was Aron and his grandfather was Henoch. He was from Piotrkow Trybunalski, close to Lodz (I had never heard of this town before). He was born in 1922. "We had an uncle in Lodz who owned an electrical supply store on 11go Listopada Street. I have lived on this kibbutz for 50 years. I am the only survivor of my family," he wrote. Even before reaching the end of his letter, I fell into a chair and began sobbing. I had found a living member of my father’s family, a second cousin, and I could hardly breathe.

Over the next weeks, we wrote and spoke by phone, but Aron was reluctant to accept the idea that someone from his family might be alive. He had given up that dream long ago. After discovering and searching the JRI-Poland database online, I found a list of names from Piotrkow Trybunalski that sounded like my family. Using the database as a guide, I ordered the Piotrkow microfilm from the local Mormon Family History Center. It was a daunting task to read the old Polish and Russian script but I refused to give up… and then I found it: Henoch’s and my grandfather’s original birth records in 1868 and 1870; they were brothers and I finally had the proof I needed! Aron finally allowed himself to freely express his joy at this news and we cried over the telephone together. The following year found us together on his kibbutz, surrounded by the family he had created. The Holocaust had wreaked havoc on our families and caused years of pain, but we had found each other and that was all that mattered. This past summer my family and I returned to Israel for our son’s Bar Mitzvah in the old city of Jerusalem, with Aron and his family in attendance. It was a triumph for both of us, a moment of supreme satisfaction not easily described in words.

Since last summer, I have located two more survivors who are second cousins, just like Aron. One lives in France, the other in Israel. We are discussing a reunion. Our grandparents were all siblings in the town of Piotrkow – they were all there in the database on the Internet! With the database as a guide, again, I could research and prove this fact beyond any reasonable doubt. Another gift awaited: one of the cousins had photographs of my family members from before the war, especially a photo of my father’s oldest brother, who died in the Lodz ghetto.

Since my first major discoveries, I have felt compelled to shout to the world that, contrary to popular belief, an abundance of Jewish records have survived in Poland, and that family mysteries need not remain unsolved. Over the past three years, I have discovered hundreds of ancestors making up a vast family tree, a far cry from the original twenty names. With the additional help of a rabbinical researcher (and in combination with the Jewish Records Indexing - Poland database), my father’s ancestry now extends a thousand years, to RaShi in 11th century France. Results like these are not just a dream anymore; they are a possibility and becoming more and more commonplace for Jewish researchers every year. It is now possible to hope that families torn apart by the Holocaust may someday be reunited.

 

Judy Baston

Jeremiah Jaskolka had only one thing left after the Holocaust – his name.

Born in Warsaw in 1920, Jaskolka and his older brother Wolf escaped to Russia in 1939 at the beginning of World War II, and he spent the war in far eastern Russia. By war’s end, his mother, Sala, and two of his brothers, Zvi and Josef, were among the hundreds of thousands who met their death from the Warsaw Ghetto. Jeremiah’s brother Wolf, never heard from again, had most likely been killed by the Nazis in Russia.

In the decade after the war, living in Russia, Jeremiah was under pressure to "Russify" his Polish name. Then, after 1962, when he moved to Israel, many people suggested to him that he should adopt a Hebrew name in his new homeland. But he hoped "that someone from my family might have survived and would find me." So despite all the pressure, he would not allow himself to change what he called "my typical Polish name, Jaskolka," which means "swallow" in Polish. "Even though whenever I introduced myself, I would have to repeat my name once again, until it became clear how it was spelled. I stuck to my decision not to change it," he recalled.

But of his life before the Holocaust, his name was all he had.

"As time passed," he noted, "my memories grew dimmer, and the mental pictures of my family faded. All the more so, since I had no photos left of my parents, brothers, etc. I had no letters left of that period, and I had nobody to talk to, in order to refresh my memory.

In the end, it seemed to me that my past had not existed at all; that I had grown up without having experienced childhood and adolescence. I felt without roots, unconnected anywhere as if I had originated from nowhere, one of the Holocaust survivors. "

That all changed one fall day in 1996, when Jeremiah received a large manila envelope from his cousin Judy Baston, an active Jewish genealogical researcher from California who serves on the Board of Directors of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland. She had undertaken research in Poland to uncover the fate of Jeremiah and his family, believed by her family to have perished in the Holocaust. Judy was stunned to discover that Jeremiah had survived and had immigrated to Israel in 1962.

After the connection was made, Judy began sending Jeremiah family information – first, photos of his brothers and mother, which he looked upon for the first time in nearly 60 years.

Then, she began sending him reflections of their shared ancestral past she had obtained because of the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland database: records of her grandmother’s birth, Jeremiah’s father’s birth, his grandparents’ wedding, as well as a family tree showing their ancestors back into the 18th century.

Jeremiah had been born in the big city of Warsaw, and his father Yankel had never told him that he himself was born in the small "shtetl" of Nur, some 60 miles to the northeast. Indeed, Jeremiah had never heard of tiny Nur, nor did he have any sense of how the millions of "shtetl" Jews -- including those in his own family -- had lived in the 19th century.

But through copies of records obtained as a result of indices created by Jewish Records Indexing-Poland, he was about to recover his history.

"Judy sent me birth certificates more than 100 years old: of my father, aunts and uncles," Jeremiah said. "In those days there were no pre-printed forms. Every event, like a birth, a wedding, a death, was recorded by a population-registry clerk. It was done in legible handwriting, in script in his very own hand, with all the details of the event.

"For instance -- Judith’s grandmother’s certificate was worded thus: Today, March 9, in the morning, there appeared before me Hayim Jaskolka, twenty-three years old, by profession a teacher, a resident of the town of Nur, accompanied by two witnesses, Hershko Karp, a merchant, and Hershko Valis, a shoemaker, both of them thirty-four years old. He presented to me a girl and declared that she had been born in the town of Nur, three years before, of his lawfully wedded wife, Sarah Gitel, twenty-seven years old, whose name before her marriage was Konopiaty. Pursuant to religious customs this girl was named Rivkah. The registration was delayed due to the lack of knowledge of the father. Because the father and witnesses are illiterate, I am obliged to read to them what I have written and to be the only signatory. Clerk Bodno’

Jeremiah read the text and was stunned: "In my mind’s eye I saw a small town with narrow and winding alleys, and houses that were about to topple. I saw the Jewish inhabitants, in black garb, bearded, with side-curls, a scene out of Sholom Aleichem. I saw the office, where a young Jew stood, who was destined to become my grandfather. He was holding in his hand a little three- year-old girl, with large and inquisitive eyes, who would be destined to become Judith’s grandmother. It was as if I had been transported miraculously, by means of a time machine, to a distant past, a world that had existed 150 years ago."

Records from the town of Nur, which had been microfilmed by the Mormons, were among the first to be indexed by Jewish Records Indexing-Poland. Other nearby towns’ records quickly followed as the JRI-Poland database grew. This meant that Judy had been able to track the history of her family from village to nearby village.

Even though she began her research only with the stories of her immigrant family members that they had come "from Nur," searching for family names in the JRI-Poland database showed her that family members had lived in many villages in which she might never have thought to search. With each additional town indexed by JRI-Poland and searchable on its database, Judy was able to add additional branches to her family tree. She sent the tree to Jeremiah.

"In her search for the roots of the family, Judy located names and dates of birth and death of my forbears, going back seven generations," he noted. "She sent me a list of these forbears, in a shape of a tree with branches. The data in this genealogy went back to my great-grandmother’s great-grandfather.

"No longer did I feel so alone," Jeremiah stressed. "I stopped being ‘rootless’ and disconnected. Now I, too, have strong and massive roots, spreading over 250 years. I have found a whole magnificent tribe to which I belong, and to which I have returned."

 

Appendix

STANLEY M. DIAMOND

Stanley M. Diamond, MBA Harvard, is founding president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal, and Project Director of Jewish Records Indexing - Poland. Diamond has a particular interest in genealogical research related to genetics that ultimately led to the creation of JRI-Poland. He is the genealogist for the international team doing research related to his family’s novel mutation of the beta-thalassemia genetic trait and is co-author of a scientific paper related to the project, "Probable Identity by Descent and Discovery of Familial Relationships by Means of a Rare Beta-Thalassemia Haplotype" Human Mutation 9:86-87 (1997). As part of his research, Diamond is documenting the rare incidence of the beta-thalassemia trait in Ashkenazic Jewish families of the Diaspora.

Dr. Professor Ariella Oppenheim of Hebrew University states that "Mr. Diamond's work serves as a paradigm for the link between genealogical research and the study of the evolution and spread of genetic diseases." Diamond has lectured on this subject to audiences in New York, Montreal, Vancouver and Boston and will be giving an updated talk on "Combining Genealogical and Family Trait Genetic Research" at the forthcoming International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in London, England in July 2001.