Thursday, November 30, 2006

Ski Przemysl!

Did you know that there is a ski hill within the city limits of Przemysl? I had no idea. Tells you something about what the winters must be like... cold!

Website: Stok narciarski w Przemyślu

Przemysl Pix!

Taking a break from surfing through stories about the sorry state of the world, I came across this web site with loads of pictures of Przemysl. While most are modern, there are several of old postcards. I have a large collection of old cards and magazines, mostly of WW One (Przemysl was a pivitol fortress in WWI) and will post them when I get the time to scan!

Pix of ZASANIE (across the river)

Labels: ,

Monday, November 27, 2006

Really bad news...

Seemingly out of the blue, the new director of the Polish State Archives (PSA) has unilaterally canceled the contract with Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (JRI) meaning no more indexing of records and no more on-line ordering of record copies.

Oy vey. The JRI-PSA partnership revolutionized the process for finding lost relatives. A person could sit in front of their computer and search indexes ten ways to Tuesday for names of interest, often making important discoveries just from the parental information in the index. If you wanted to dig deeper, you could then order copies of the actual records which might contain even more lost treasures. Over the past 5 years, I would guess that I've found 6 of my direct ancestors and 100+ aunts and uncles through JRI. There is simply no way these people would ever have been named without them.

JRI's Executive Director, Stan Diamond, and the Order Coordinator, Mark Halperin, are terrific and hard-working people, and doubtless are doing everything they can to either restore or restrike the deal with PSA. Every Jew researching roots in Poland owes them and everyone at JRI a huge debt.
As bad as this news is, everyone should remember that JRI's millions of records will continue to be available on-line. And keep in mind that the PSA records are only a fraction of the genealogically useful information out there. JRI will continue to index the copious non-PSA information that's available, adding to the database for years to come. JRI is still THE place to research for your Polish roots.
Please $upport JRI. This GREAT organization needs your help - now, more than ever.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Two German officers in Przemysl

Two German officers in Przemysl, two righteous among the nations.

From Yad Vashem:

Battel, Dr. Albert

Albert Battel was born on January 21, 1891 in Klein-Pramsen. As a fifty-one-year-old reserve officer and lawyer from Breslau, Dr. Battel was stationed in Przemysl in south Poland as the adjutant to the local military commander, Major Max Liedtke. When the SS prepared to launch their first large-scale “resettlement” (liquidation) action against the Jews of Przemysl on July 26, 1942, Battel, in consort with his superior, ordered the bridge over the River San, the only access into the Jewish ghetto, to be blocked. As the SS commando attempted to cross to the other side, the sergeant-major in charge of the bridge threatened to open fire unless they withdrew. All this happened in broad daylight, to the amazement of the local inhabitants. Still later that same afternoon, an army detachment under the command of Oberleutenant Battel broke into the cordoned-off area of the ghetto and used army trucks to whisk off up to 100 Jews and their families to the barracks of the local military command. These Jews were placed under the protection of the Wehrmacht and were thus sheltered from deportation to the Belzec extermination camp. The remaining ghetto inmates, including the head of the Judenrat, Dr. Duldig, underwent “resettlement” in the following days.

After this incident, the SS authorities began a secret investigation into the outrageous conduct of the army officer who had dared defy them under such embarrassing circumstances. It turned out that Battel, though himself a member of the Nazi party since May 1933, had already attracted notice in the past by his friendly behavior toward the Jews. Before the war he had been indicted before a party tribunal for having extended a loan to a Jewish colleague. Later, in the course of his service in Przemysl, he was officially reprimanded for cordially shaking the hand of the chairman of the Jewish Council, Dr. Duldig. The entire affair reached the attention of the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy. No less a figure than Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer-SS, took a lively interest in the results of the investigation and sent a photocopy of the incriminating documentation to Martin Borman, chief of the Party Chancellery and Hitler’s right-hand man. In the accompanying letter, Himmler, one of the most dreaded men in the Third Reich, vowed to have the lawyer arrested immediately after the war.

All this remained unknown to Battel. In 1944, he was discharged from military service because of heart disease. He returned to his hometown Breslau, only to be drafted into the Volk Storm (Volkssturm) and fall into Russian captivity. After his release, he settled in West Germany but was prevented from returning to practice law by a court of de-Nazification. He died in Hattersheim near Frankfurt.

Battel’s heroic stand against the SS, unparalleled in the annals of the Third Reich, came to be recognized only a long time after his death; most notably, through the tenacious efforts of the Israeli researcher and lawyer Dr. Zeev Goshen.

On January 22, 1981, Yad Vashem decided to recognize Albert Battel (posthumously) as Righteous Among the Nations.

And from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

In Przemysl, Poland, Major Max Liedtke prevented the SS from staging a raid on the city's Jews, by ordering his soldiers to stop them from crossing a bridge. He was dismissed from his post and sent to the front. He died in Russian captivity.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

'This is powerful stuff'

Holocaust files unsealed
Vast archive opens to reveal victims' stories
(from the Chicago Sun Times)
November 19, 2006

BAD AROLSEN, Germany -- The 21-year-old Russian sat before a clerk of the U.S. Army judge advocate's office, describing the furnaces at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where he had been a prisoner until a few weeks previously.

''I saw with my own eyes how thousands of Jews were gassed daily and thrown by the hundreds into pits where Jews were burning,'' he said.

''I saw how little children were killed with sticks and thrown into the fire,'' he continued. Blood flowed in gutters, and ''Jews were thrown in and died there.'' More were taken off trucks and cast alive into the flames, he said.

Today, the Holocaust is known in dense and painful detail. Yet the young Russian's words leap off the faded page with a rawness that transports the reader back to April 1945, when World War II was still raging and the world knew little about gas chambers, genocide and the Final Solution.

The two pages of testimony, in a file randomly plucked off a shelf, are among millions of documents held by the International Tracing Service, or ITS, an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This vast archive -- 16 miles of files in six nondescript buildings in a German spa town -- contains the fullest records of Nazi persecutions in existence. But because of concerns about the victims' privacy, the ITS has kept the files closed to the public for half a century, doling out information in minimal amounts to survivors or their descendants on a strict need-to-know basis.
Read the whole AP wire story here.


Friday, November 17, 2006

A small part of 6 million

I was looking through the pictures in the Przemysl Yizkor (holocaust remembrance written by survivors in Hebrew and Yiddish) book the other day when I came across a photo that caught my eye. After a few moments racking my brain, it dawned on me; this is the same photo that my grandmother Fannie had in her album - the one that no one in the family could identify. A funeral, but for who? And where?

Now we know: It turns out that the photo is from the dedication of a memorial stone to those lost in Shoah, taken in 1946 in the cemetery in Przemysl.

My mother thinks that it may have been given to my grandfather Emil who spent every Saturday down at the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) office in New York, trying to find out what became of his brother Elia (his photo to the right), last seen crossing the San river in 1939 to join the Red Army when the Nazis took over Przemysl. To this day, we do not know his fate. It also may have been sent by my grandmother’s brother Isaac (Edward) who did return to Przemysl from Russia after the war only to find his wife and four children gone, but that’s another story altogether.

In any case, I’m glad we have this photo, and I can now appreciate what it meant to my grandparents – this little ceremony really was a mass funeral for all those who didn’t make it back home to Przemysl after the Shoah, including Elia Silberman, Leah Metzger and four children with names unknown to us. Never again.

Labels: ,

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Poles discover their Jewish roots

Adam Easton of BBC News has an interesting piece today on Poles re-discovering their Jewish roots. The story centers on Pawel, a young ex-skinhead who makes a starling discovery about his own background:

"A young person always needs to find an enemy and we found this enemy in Jews, blacks and Gypsies."

Six years ago, Pawel made a discovery that turned his life upside down - he found out that he was Jewish. His parents had turned their back on Jewish life and they had never told him about his background.

"When I looked into the mirror I asked myself: why should I be a Jew? It was the biggest shock of my life. It was really a huge blow. For most of my life I hated them. It was too much to take in at once."

Click HERE to read the whole story. Hat tip: Dr. Hartman.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Przemysl Ghetto

From the Yizkor book, here is a map showing the progression of the Nazi ghetto in Przemysl.

(Click to enlarge.)

Labels: ,

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Map of Modern Przemysl

Click to enlarge this map (It is very detailed).

Click here for pre-Shoah map.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Przemysl Temple

The following information is from the indispensable ShtetLinks Przemysl web site:

"Tempel" was a reform (progressive) synagogue, established in 1890. According to "Gazeta Przemyska", September 18, 1890, during the opening ceremony the Temple was "filled with the public and the invited guests, including the starosta, Mr. Gorecki [... and] Mayor of the City, Dr. A. Dworski, as well as several councilmen as representatives of the local community. The service started with a harmonium [type of organ] rendition of a preludium, followed by the cantor's recitation of the welcoming blessing from Psalm 118, verses 26 and 27. The introductory prayer "How beautiful are your tents" ["Ma Tovu"] was then sung by the cantor, accompanied by the choir. After a communal prayer, Dr. J. BAUMFELD, the president of the Israelite [Jewish] community, gave a speach on "A stone which the builders rejected has become the corner stone (Psalm 118, verse 22). The ceremony of lighting of the "eternal light' was conducted by the chairman of the association, Mr. L. SCHWARZTHAL, and the chairman of the building committee, Mr. Ch. WOLF, assisted by board members and functionaries, Mr. J. BAUMGARTEN and A. MANELS. The ceremony ended with the singing of Psalm 30 (Song at the Dedication of the House of David), a Torah procession, a prayer for the ruling house, homeland, and a folk hymn.

The interior of the temple, shaped as a rectangle, presents itself very well, because its ornamental style, the frescos, the balustrade of the women's gallery, the stucco work on the ceiling all come together as a harmoneous whole, pleasant for the eye. The place where the Torah is kept deserves special attention as it represents an oriental portico, artistically made in the studio of Mr. MAJERSKI. Mr. MAJERSKI has also sculpted the balustrade of the women's gallery and created the cassette style stucco ceiling. The iron balustrade surrounding the elevation before the Torah was produced by the locksmith studio of Mr. BORKOWSKI, the candlesticks by the studio of Mr. GORNIAK, the concrete plates in two colors, which cover the floor, were provided by a local factory of concrete products of Mr. JANOCH and associates."

Translated by BUY. Thanks to Lukasz Biedka for sending a copy of the original article.

Jack Fields remembers:
This temple was situated on the corner of Serbanska and Jagiellonska streets in Przemysl. 95% of the prayers in this temple were recited in the Polish language. I visited this temple a few times as a child. I found the service easy to follow. However, like in a Catholic church, there was an organ, which for those times was very unusual. The people who went to this temple were the Jewish professionals with liberal beliefs. This was the first synagogue which was burned by the Nazis. I saw it happen. When the Polish fire brigade arrived, the Nazis cut their water hoses to ensure that the building was destroyed.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Arieh Mayer - My Connection to Przemysl

My name is Arieh Mayer. I was born Israel and had no connection to Poland or Przemysl until the death of my mother, who passed away 23 years ago. Among the letters and photos she left me was a picture of a five or six year old girl holding a ball. On the back of the photo was written To my daughter Cilli (my mother’s name) here is your sister Dvora, Przemysl. It seemed very strange to me because I knew that my grandfather Chaim Glaser, who got divorced from my grandmother in the early twenties, lived in Vienna had only three children: my mother and her two brothers.

From what was written on the photo I guessed that after his divorce he moved to Przemysl got married again and had this daughter. From this moment I begun to try to find out what happened to the both of them, after I learned that the last time my family heard of them was in 1939.

During my research which started about fifteen years ago I found out that my grandfather, a shoemaker, married Rachla Stolzberg in 1926 and a year later they had a daughter - Dvora. The Przemysl archives confirmed all of this when I received from them the marriage certificate and the birth certificate of Dvora. I found a relative of Rachla who told me that she passed away a few years after her marriage that my grandfather's financial situation became so bad that he was forced to put Dvora in an orphanage. That was all I found out. People from all over the world tried to help me find out what became of Dvora, but with no success.

One of them was Rozia Felner, whose address I got from Dr. Hartman. I used to send her money and parcels of Israeli food every Rosh Hashanah and Pesach. She always thanked me in Polish and added a few Hebrew words she remembered from the days she went to a Jewish school in Przemysl. This year she didn’t response, now I know why.

I would appreciate getting any information anyone can give me about my grandfather and his daughter.

בברכה מאריה מאיר
Arieh Mayer
Haifa, Israel

Labels: ,

Friday, November 10, 2006

An map of Jewish Przemysl

This map is from the inside cover of the Przemysl Yizkor book.

The index on the upper left:
1. Zasanie Synagogue
2. The Temple
3. Kahat – Community congregation
4. Klaus – ???
5. The Old Synagogue
6. Bath house
7. House of Study
8. Scheinbach Synagogue (now the town library)

Only 1 and 8 are still standing. I will post photos of the magnificent Temple and Old Synagogue in a future post. The new Jewish cemetery is located at the bottom of the map on Slowackiego.

My great-grandparents Marcus and Channa lived across from the rail station on Czarnieckiego. Later, this was the part of town that the Nazis made into the Jewish ghetto.

If you click on the map, it will expand.

Shabbat Shalom


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Welcome to the Przemysl Blog!

Greetings to everyone interested in Jewish Przemysl! This web site is intended to be an open forum for the sharing of all things Przemysl and the surrounding areas.

Please, please, please contribute - just email me your photos, comments or essays and I will post them to the site. Email me here

My interest? Both of my mother's parents are from Przemysl. Our names are Metzger, Silberman, Laufer, Reifer, Perl, Gottesman, Malz, Irrgang, Hecht and Kern.

Przemysl Program - Oct 2006

Click here: Remembering the Jews of Przemysl

Program, Sponsors and Schedule. Includes the first Shabbat in Przemysl since 1939!

Videos of the Memorial Service in Przemysl

Clip 1 Dr. Hartman at the cemetary.

Clip 2 The Rabbi chanting graveside.

Clip 3 Dr. Hartman addressing the conference.

Dr. John Hartman's Obit of Rozia Felner

Obituary Department: New York Times

This is pertinent information about the death of Ernestyna Felner, the last remaining Jewish woman in Przemysl Poland who survived the Holocaust.


John J. Hartman, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Remembrance and Reconciliation, Inc.

300 S. Hyde Park Avenue, Suite 150

Tampa, FL 33606



Ernestyna Rozia Felner died in Przemysl, Poland on October 22, 2006 at the age of 92 after a short illness. Mrs. Felner was the last Jewish woman known to have survived the Holocaust in her home town where she lived all of her life. Born Ernestyna Alweiss, she married her husband, Edmund, an accountant. When the Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939 her two brothers, Pinkas and Jakob, were among 600 Jewish men killed by special ethnic cleansing units of the SS known as Einsatzgruppen. She and her husband were forced to live in the Ghetto created by the SS , but they escaped before the first transports took the inhabitants of the Ghetto, including the remainder of her family, to the death camp at Belzec. They were hidden by Ukrainians in a secret second story room where they survived the war. She worked as an economic planner after the war and after her husband’s death in 1978 became a living symbol of Jewish life in this eastern Polish town on the Ukrainian border. Her life story was recounted in the book, ‘I Remember Every Day..’ The Fate of the Jews of Przemysl During World War II. Ironically, her death came on the very day that a ceremony was held commemorating the restoration of the Jewish cemetery and memorializing the Jews of Galicia who died in the Holocaust.

Labels: ,

A Day in Przemysl

© David R. Semmel 2003

Fannie Metzger, my mom’s mother and my grandmother was one of 9 children from the town of Przemysl , in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in southeastern Poland . We knew that one of her brothers, Isaac, had survived the war, returned, remarried and later died in the early ‘70s. It was our hope to locate his adopted son, who we believed to be named Jerzy.

May 8, 2003 started early at our hotel in the Rzeszow, about 50km up the main highway from Przemysl, over coffee and cold cuts with my parents, Mel and Dorothy, our driver, Jan, and our guide, Kris. Rzeszow , Kris noted, was once known to Poles, pejoratively, as “Mojzeszow” (in English ‘Mosestown), owing its once large Hasidic population. Today it is a dreary industrial city with little outward charm.

To simply label Kris Malczewski as a tour guide doesn’t even begin to capture the true meaning of his work. His formula is equal parts detective, linguist, psychologist, anthropologist, salesman and entrepreneur, sprinkled liberally with a frenetic activity level, a compulsive drive, and a likeable country boy personality, and all topped off with a surfeit of raw chutzpa. None of the wonderful things that transpired this day in Przemysl could have been possible without him.

Kris, David, Jan, Dorothy and Mel
If you don't look too closely, the approach to Przemysl from the north looks like a scene out of rural Wisconsin with gently rolling hills holding many small farms. The fields are long narrow rectangles, radiating out from the road at right angles. On closer inspection you find a refreshing variety of crops, from grains to berries, potatoes and vegetables. The tractors are Soviet vintage and you still see the occasional horse cart. Przemysl occupies a ‘V’ shaped valley with city on both slopes, with the swift and rocky San River at the crux. Because of the hills the city occupies, Przemysl has almost no right angle intersections, and it’s winding maze of streets and alleys give it something close to the feel of an Umbrian ‘hilltop’ town.

Our first stop was Smolki Street to see Rozia Felner who Kris knew from his past research work. She is one of the very few Jews who survived the war and resettled in Przemysl. Perhaps she knew of our Isaac, who had also survived and returned to the city. We pulled up to her street, across from the 4 story apartment building where she lived. Kris, always thinking and working, ran to a corner store and bought her a box of chocolates.

The building, like almost all the buildings in this part of the world, was covered in a grey patina, laid down from years of soot from the coal stoves which heat each apartment. While it lacked some features we take for granted like screens and central heat, it was, by Polish standards, solidly middle class. We ascended the 4 flights of stairs to Rozia’s, past buckets of coal and kindling on each story’s landing. She was expecting us as Kris had phoned her the prior evening. She lived alone in the modest but quite comfortable flat. After she proudly served us coffee and cakes, we got down to business. Our guide Kris is, in addition to his many other talents, a gifted translator capable of going from Polish to English as sentences are being uttered. Soon after we began, she looked at us and said that she knew where our relative was buried, next to her husband in the Jewish cemetery, and that his wife, Aniela, was still alive but quite infirmed. It’s hard to convey the sledge hammers impact of hearing, first hand, that a previously unnamed and unknown wife of an almost mythical uncle was actually still alive.

Rozia at the Cemetery Gate
At 88 Rozia has seen and lived through more than anyone you’re ever likely to meet. Her eyes are foggy and one is a bit crossed but her mind is still razor sharp and her voice clear and forceful. She easily wields the authority of a family matriarch, at one point looking at my stomach and suggesting that I should try to emulate the more slender figure of my mother, rather than that of my father. Said as only an authentic Jewish mother could!

In a touching moment, when we had asked about her life, she looked at Kris and said but a few words which he did not translate for us. Later we learned that she had told him she could not bear to recall too much of her life as it was just too hard to deal with and for fear of kindling nightmares. A few days later in Krakow I bought a book that contained short life stories written by survivors from Przemysl. Rozia was one of the authors. She gives a brief but gut-wrenching account of her ordeal and improbable survival amid unspeakable horrors. In closing, she offers: “I am many times lonely now, and I don’t like to think very much about the war and the losses of the Jewish people.”

She knew of a man who would know how to find Aniela. She suggested, no, more accurately she told us, that we would all go to see him, stopping at the cemetery on the way. We descended the 4 flights, got into the car, and drove off on a mission to find our newly named relation.

By European standards, the Jewish cemetery in Przemysl is in pretty good shape. It has a gate and a fence and well over half of the stones are still in place. It’s not so much a cemetery in the American sense of neat rows and columns, it’s more of a wild forest with stones scattered among the trees and underbrush. The very few post war stones are in front with the vast majority of older ones set back into the encroaching forest. As you walk deeper into the forest, you walk further back in time. After 50 meters or so, all Latin script disappears into Hebrew. There is a simple but poignant memorial stone dedicated to the 4,000 or so Przemysl Jews murdered in the Shoah. While it is not well groomed, I wouldn’t say that it lacks for dignity. There is a fusion of nature and spirit in this place that is hard to describe yet almost overwhelmingly palpable. This is an intensely spiritual place. Rozia asked me to light two candles she had brought for her husband’s grave, a duty I was honored to perform.

Jewish Cemetery
With only a dozen or so post-war stones to look at, all crowded near the cemetery entrance, it took but a moment to locate the grave of one Edward Metzger. Our initial confusion over the name was quickly explained by Rozia, who knew our Isaac by his ‘street’ name, Edward. Given that he had married a Catholic woman, Aniela, and with the political climate as it was in communist Poland , it is not surprising that he adopted a more Christian name.

Later, we piled back into the van to find Joachim, a friend of Rozia’s who she thought could help us. A former storekeeper, now a retired pensioner, we found him at his apartment. It’s a good thing we had a van because before long Jochiam was driving with us to show us the area he thought she lived in. After dropping Rozia and Joachim off, we arrived at an apartment block. As it turned out, this was to be a dead end. Kris stopped all sorts of people on the street, asking everyone and anyone if they know of an old woman named Aniela who lived in this block. It was fascinating to interact with a wide range of locals; kids, teens, drunks, young and old couples. Finally, three older women who just looked like they knew everything that went on it this block told us she didn’t live there. We believed them.

Not even remotely ready to quit, Kris decided to visit the city hall. The records department was on the 3rd floor, so up we climbed. The building is a nondescript box, modern in the early 60’s manner. We entered the records division and were promptly ushered next door into a room filled floor to ceiling with metal file boxes. Kris, who had been working overtime charming the middle aged lady clerks in Polish started probing for data with one of the women who appeared to be in charge and manned the computer console. The computer was an index to the records and looked to be from the age of ‘pong’. Unfortunately, we seemed to be striking out on searches for any Metzger. In modern Poland there is a privacy law that seals any and all state records that are less than 100 years old so, technically, what we were asking for was illegal. Some combination of Kris’ charm, his name dropping of the town mayor and what I believe to have been genuine kindness and unspoken understanding with the clerks all conspired to rally the office to our aid.

Just as we were ready to give up and leave, one of the women comes through a doorway from another archive waving a 5x7 card which, with little fanfare, was deposited on the Formica counter before us. And there it all was. Like a mini Rosetta stone, this card laid out, in longhand, the life of one Aniela Tyczynska of Tarnowskiego Street . She was born July 26, ’22 as Aniela Binczak. Her first married name was Wojtowicz, which is also the name of her son Jerzy, born June 11, ‘41 . After the war she married Isaac Metzger, who’s street name was Edward. He died in 1971 after which she married a third time with the name Tyczynska. Kris called the apartment on his cell and quickly arranged for us to meet.

Her apartment has a small vestibule that opens into a fairly spacious eat-in kitchen. All of the appliances are small by our standards and electric. She showed us into the living/dining room and sat us at a small table in the room’s center. Her balcony doors were open and she had a small flower garden in pots growing. The room itself, like all apartments we saw in Poland , was muted, lit by a single 25 watt bulb. On the walls were photos of her children and grand children. Particularly striking was a wedding portrait of her son Jerzy and his beautiful wife Anna, a dead ringer for a young Kim Novak. While we know that Aniela is not Jewish, curiously, there were few if any obvious Catholic symbols to be found in her apartment.

Aniela began to talk in Polish, translated as she spoke by Kris. Isaac didn’t follow his siblings to America because he had been drafted into the Army in the 30’. On release, he married and unknown woman, c. 1938. She knew him pre-war because her family, the Binczak’s and the Metzger family were neighbors and friends, living on ‘ Kopernica Street ’. Isaac left voluntarily by train for Russia in ’39 with a group of other Jewish men, presumably to fight on the Soviet side against the Nazis. (In 1939 Przemysl was the border with one bank of the San River in Russia and the other in Germany . When hostilities broke out, many Jews, many of whom were also ardent Socialists or Communists, chose to go over the Russian side to fight.) Aniela’s family receive messages from him, indicating that he first went to Lemberg ( L’vov) then on to Sambor.

He returned to Przemysl in ’44 as a corporal in a Polish Army unit formed in Russia and fighting along side the Red Army. On return, he found his wife gone, presumably murdered in the holocaust. Aniela’s family hid his identity cards to protect him from the partisans (?). One theory is that he was hiding the fact that he was Jewish since in 1946 there was a vicious pogrom in many parts of Poland and the Polish Army units formed in Soviet Russia contained a disproportionately high percentage of Jews. He and Aniela married soon after the war, her first husband having died, likely as a soldier.

She remembers visits post-war from many of Isaac’s Polish Army comrades who later immigrated to Israel . He was a ‘tinner’ or a metal worker and a member of the Communist party. He was also a member of the ‘nationalist’ group (?). Later, he became a worker at a library/bookstore on the ground floor below the very apartment we were in. There is still a sign at the entry way for this long since shuttered store. He received money and had much contact with the Israeli embassy. Perhaps this was German war reparations which were officially shunned by the Communist Poles?

He was jailed in the late ’50 for something to do with mis-appropriated clothing and repatriated workers from the east. Aniela downplayed the entire episode, saying she hired a lawyer and he spent only a short time in jail. We suspect that there is much more to this tale, and a significant political angle, than she was willing to tell us.

She remembered receiving care packages from the Metzger family, especially from my grandmother Fannie, or Fania to her, who could read and write in Polish. She also recalled fondly visits from Edward’s American relatives; his nephew, Bernard Flamenbaum and wife Barbara during the late 50's, and a visit from his sister-in law, Molly Metzger on her way to Moscow in the 60's.

At one point there was an enigmatic exchange about Edward’s gravestone and her feeling that his burial site needed to be better taken care of. Coming on the heels of her remembrance of the care packages the family sent for years, were we to interpret this as a request for financial assistance? In subsequent discussion with Kris and other Poles, we concluded that it is more in keeping with a tradition of self deprecation than an overt request for money. But its not at all clear and in the end our conclusion rests almost completely on the nuance of translation that Kris chose to relate to us. Finally, she recalled that the Metzger’s had a family bakery on ‘ Ratashova Street ’ until 1939.

We then heard all about her family. Recently retired Jerzy and wife now live in Stalowa Wola, a city about 100km to the north. Their children are Kasia or Katarzyna (m. Leszek Warchol – both doctors) and Marta (m. Darek Banka – both teachers). She has several grandchildren and beamed as she proudly showed off snapshots. While not blood relations, she was clear and emphatic on how close Isaac/Edward and Jerzy were up to his death and how he was grandfather to the children.

Aniela has advanced Parkinson’s and tires easily. The 90 minutes we talked had taken its toll on her, both physically and emotionally. But this is a strong and proud woman who clearly enjoyed our visit almost as much as we treasured meeting her. As we left, we exchanged the hugs of a family.

Labels: ,

Rozia Felner 1913 - 2006

Rozia Felner died on October 21 and was buried next to her husband in the cemetery on Slowackiego Street in Przemysl, Poland.

I met Rozia in 2003 on a family root trip to Poland with my mom and dad. (Here is a piece I wrote about the day we met her.) Three years later, I’ve been trying to figure out why all of us found her so intriguing, so special. In the same sentence she could go from warm to gruff. So much of her manner was somehow familiar, yet occasionally it drifted into a distant, foreign demeanor. Finally, with her death, its dawned on me: she’s my grandma Fannie who didn’t move to New York in the 20s, who stayed in Przemysl and survived the war and the Shoah.

Preserved in Rozia was the same sharp, often cutting intelligence all of my grandparents brought to America. And like Fannie, the full brunt of Rozia’s intellect was often manifested in humor. But unlike Fannie, who was living one version of the American dream, moving from the slums of the Lower East Side to the relative luxury of the Bronx, Rozia was hiding from the certain death of the Nazi Holocaust, locked for years in a sealed room in the house of a local Christian family. As Fannie grew older, she watched her daughter marry, educate herself to a PhD, and have me and my sister; Rozia never talked about her family and to the best of my recollection, there were no photos of kids or grandkids hanging on the concrete walls of her apartment. Her’s was a very hard life to live while trying to remain optimistic.

I’m told that Rozia was the last Jewess in Przemysl. I know it is trite to say that there will never be another like her, but in this case, it happens to be true. Rozia was the last first-person link to Jewish Przemysl, a place with untold centuries of Jewish history. With her passing, the lineage of the Jews of Przemysl ends; a very, very long chain is broken. Yet to me, she’s bigger than Przemysl, more than an alternate reality version of Fannie. Rozia Felner is every Jew’s grandmother if she never left Poland, Russia or Hungary – a reminder of where we all came from a scant 70 years ago, how close we came to being wiped out as a people, why we have to fight, why never again.

Rest in peace, Rozia.