My Grandmother Zielinski (nee Reichert) died when I was 14 years old and I had several discussions with her about the Reichert and Zielinski families. With regards to the latter, I remember she said that they came from a place which at the time sounded like “Shtaich” and she also gave me the names of all her husband’s brothers and sisters. I remembered just a few of these names.
Decades passed during which I did nothing further to investigate the Zielinski family.
Toward the end of 1996, my daughter Rachel, then aged 17 went on a “Holocaust Study Trip” to Poland and the Czech Republic and I felt that this would be the ideal opportunity for us to learn what happened to the Zielinski branch of our family. Unfortunately, despite my request, the organisers of the Holocaust Study Trip which my daughter participated in, were unable to incorporate a visit to the place my grandfather had been born into their itinerary and so I therefore at that stage obtained no further information about my family.
The garbled name “Shtaich” which I had learned from my grandmother could hardly suffice for any further study! Some research (prior to Rachel’s visit to Poland) gave me the name off the city as Przedecz. Armed with the name Przedecz, I went to “Yad Vashem” - the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem. The librarian there referred to their computer and gave me the reference of the “Yizkor Book” for Przedecz. From an atlas I then found the geographical location of Przedecz. Two off the four editors of this Yizkor Book were still alive - Moshe Mokotov and Reuven Yamnik. I spoke to both of them by telephone. Moshe Mokotov sent me a copy of this “Yizkor Book” and refused any payment for it. Reuven Yamnik informed me that all of the Zielinskis mentioned in this book were from the same family - cousins etc.
This “Yizkor Book” also gave the names of former residents of Przedecz both in Israel and in the Diaspora, Although there were no Zielinskis living in Israel, there were three Zielinskis living in the Diaspora - two in U.S.A. and one in France. I wrote to all three of them asking for information on the family but received no replies. Two of the letters were returned by the Post Office. This was not too surprising since the addresses were well over twenty years old, and also by my calculations these people would be very elderly and possibly no longer alive.
Przedecz, despite its small size had the status of a city. It is today situated west of central Poland midway between Chodcz and Klodowa, 75 kilometres north west of Lodz and 159 kilometres west of Warsaw. At first Jews were forbidden to live there and this was only permitted towards the end of the 14th century. Even though the maximum number of Jews there was less than nine hundred - nearly thirty per cent of the total population - in the early 1920s, it had all the elements of a Jewish community – Synagogue, Bet Hamidrash, Mikvah, Jewish Schools, Yeshivah, Jewish Library, Jewish Cemetery, Eruv, welfare and cultural organisations. It also had its own Chief Rabbi, Shochet and Mohel. All this changed in the Second World War, when virtually the entire Jewish community there became Holocaust victims.
The Yizkor book gives the names and addresses of many former members of Przedecz living in Israel. From a program on my computer which enabled me to obtain any telephone number in Israel, I was able to draw up a list of telephone numbers of people who were still alive. Between December 1997 and February 1998, I contacted these people by telephone in order to see if they could give me information regarding the Zielinski family. Some of them were able to give me some snippets of information, as for example, where in Przedecz various members of the Zielinski family lived. During the course of these telephone conversations, I realised that I needed to have a much longer discussion with Reuven Yamnik and a face to face meeting would be best. He agreed to such a meeting and on 20 January 1998 I travelled to his house in Bnei Brak, armed with a cassette recorder and plenty of paper and spoke with him for two hours and from this conversation learned several new facts regarding the Zielinski family, and also some general information about Przedecz.
My mother’s brother Monty had prepared a family history of his and his wife’s family. He had virtually no information on the Zielinski branch in Przedecz. However, he did include a list of the names of the brothers and sisters of his father. I wrote to him asking the source of such a list and he replied that during the Second World War, whilst serving in the British army, he was told to supply a list “giving the family names and addresses” in occupied Europe, in order not to be sent to those areas. I asked him for a photocopy of this list which he duly sent me. The list was typed in March 1942, and since in those days not many people had typewriters, he wrote to me, “It was probably typed by your father.”
From the information, I had assembled from various sources, I succeeded in writing up an account of “The Zielinski Family of Przedecz.” Of course there were plenty of gaps, a few of which I later managed to fill in. Fortunately I knew people who had a good knowledge of Yiddish and Polish and they graciously helped with the translations of the relevant documents I had found during the course of my research
This book came out in March 1998 and in addition to the text included photographs and sketches from the Yizkor Book, lists of names from the Lodz ghetto (where some members of the Zielinski family then lived) and various other documents.
It was also in March 1998 that my eldest daughter Ayelet was one of the leaders in a Holocaust Study Trip and I asked if she would be able to find out more material on the Zielinski family. I prepared a written list of possible assignments. Apart from trying to make a detour in order to visit Przedecz, I asked if she could get information about my mother’s cousin Reuven Zelinsky who lived in Lodz, which was included in the planned itinerary. As soon as she returned to Israel, she came to see me and I saw she had managed to do almost all the assignments, (which included a brief visit to Przedecz) and she brought me a large number of photographs.
It was in the 1950s that Yad Vashem decided to try and document the names of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. They then sent round officials to the houses of Jews in Israel asking them if they could complete forms entitled “Pages of Testimony” with this information. This documentation afterwards continued and until today I understand there are about three million names recorded.
By 1999, I had assembled information on many members of the Zielinski family and in May of that year, I went to Yad Vashem to fill in forms with such information. I went armed with the book I had written. There I requested a whole pile of forms and went into their library in order to complete them. The questions asked on these forms included: family name of victim, first name, age at death, date of birth, gender, place of birth, victim’s parents’ and spouse’s name, place of work, date of death, place of death and circumstances of death. This was followed by details of the informant.
I spent hours filling in forms for about 36 members of the Zielinski family. In many cases I did not know the answer to many of the questions and therefore had to leave blanks. In the margin of each form I added the source of my information. I personally feel that it would be useful for this to be incorporated as one of the questions. I also feel it would be good for those filling up these “Pages of Testimony” to add their Identity Card number.
As a result of putting my book on my website, I received in April 2004 a very nice letter from a non-Jew called Zbigniew Cmielewski. He wrote to me in English (and his English is very good), “I have just read your history of the Zielinski family of Przedecz. It is very interesting. I was born in Przedecz in 1956 and I was living there by 1971. I’m interested in history of Przedecz especially in its former residents …. I can give you some more details about Przedecz and eventually about its former citizens and I can send you some photos from Przedecz….”
During the following weeks and months he sent me various material on Przedecz. Soon after this, he saw online the Przedecz Yizkor Book. He wrote, “I’m very happy but I have got a hugh problem – I can’t read it. It’s a pity that this book is not in English.” In order for him to be able to read this book, he wrote that he would have to learn the language and he had already started to teach himself the Hebrew alphabet. He concluded by asking, “Could you translate inscriptions into English on the street map of Przedecz?” I did all he requested and he then suggested that this Yizkor Book should be translated into Polish and that many people should read it.
In the Przedecz Town Hall there are a number of Jewish birth and death records from the early part of the 20th century. These are to be found in three small thin books. I wrote to Zbigniew asking him if he could arrange to me to have photocopies of these books. He inquired but was told that records for the last 100 years were closed but they would let me have records appertaining to my family. I replied by giving him all the surnames of my various relatives. One of the workers at these archives began and he himself continued extracting the material from these records (which are in Cyrillic) and at the beginning of 2006, he sent the information to me by e-mail two lists in a tabulated form. The information included for the births: child’s name, year of birth, father’s name, mother’s name including maiden name; for the deaths it included: name, year and often the actual date and/or age at death, and occasionally father’s and/or mother’s name. It seems from studying these records that some of the entries are from my direct family, whilst others are probably more distant relatives.
Zbigniew offered to send me photocopies of the original documents, moreover at his own expense, adding “Many of your relatives - who were on the list – perished in the Holocaust. Today is “March of the Living” in Auschwitz-Birkenau. This is my small step in it.” Unfortunately for some reason I did not take this up with him at the time. It was many years later, towards the end of 2014, when I returned to my project on genealogy, that I sent him an e-mail reminding him of his kind offer. I then carefully went through the two lists he had sent me and found 10 birth records who were my immediate family and requested that he scan or photocopy these documents and send them to me, adding that I was prepared to pay for the expenses involved. However, I received no reply (despite sending him a further e-mail), probably indicating that he had changed his e-mail.
Another person whose family came from Przedecz (although it would seem not a relative) was Noach Hall who lived in Telshstone near Jerusalem. I had been in periodic contact with him for a number of years. Noach was in contact with Halina Ziecik, a Polish historian, who had made a film on the Jews of Przedecz in Przedecz and she had assisted Noach in his research, including sending him photocopies of documents connected with his family. I therefore I asked Noach in March 2017, whether Halina could photocopy these 10 documents for me, for payment, but he replied that Halina was at the time with writing a book on Przedecz.
During 2005, I received e-mails from two people who had seen my book on the “Zielinski Family of Przedecz” on the Internet. One of them was in June of that year, and was from Ken Rapoport an accountant from Illinois in the United States; the other, in November of the same year was from Gary Nelson a lawyer from London. Ken was related to the Zychlinsky’s who were distant relatives of mine, and Gary to the Zielinskis. We worked out that my great great grandfather was Gary’s great great great great grandfather.
Ken went to Poland in September 2005 to search out his roots. Afterwards he wrote to me, “My trip to Poland was wonderful. I found a lot a lot of information and it was spiritually moving.” At the Jewish Historical Society, he found quite a bit of material which included the annual Rolls of Przedecz Jewish Community Membership Fee Payers for the years 1924-1935, and several Rolls of Candidates for Members of the Board of the Przedecz Jewish Community. Since they were in Polish, he paid quite a lot of money there to have them translated into English. He sent me a copy of this material and it included entries on the Zielinski family.
One of the people Ken was in contact with was Stanley Diamond who is the Executive Director of “Jewish Records Indexing – Poland.” This organization has already indexed a large number of the Jewish records in Polish archives. From my e-mails with him and with Ken, I learned that at present there is a project now being commenced to index the Jewish entries in the “Lists of Permanent Residents” from the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century for the various towns in Poland. This was eventually done for Przedecz and Ken sent me the relevant pages for the Zielinski family. These pages gave the names of Azriel and Liba Zielinski, (my great grandparents), their dates of birth (possibly on the Julian calendar), the names of their parents, their occupations. It also gave all these details for their seven children (three boys and four girls), and in some cases for the next generation. One of this generation was Ruven who had moved to Lodz. He died at the early age of 28 and is buried in the Lodz cemetery. My daughter Ayelet succeeded in location his grave and photographing it. The tombstone was in excellent condition. He left a window and two very young children, all of whom perished in the Holocaust. This was also the case with almost the entire Zielinski family.
Another person who on reading my book contacted me was Graham Calvert, whose family came from Przedecz. Coincidentally Graham had purchased my mothers house in Edgware when she came on Aliyah.
Azriel’s brother Shiar had moved to England. Gary, after much effort, succeeded in the summer of 2006 in locating, the tombstone in Edmonton cemetery which he then photographed. At the time I did not know the name of his father (my great great grandfather) and the inscription on his tombstone of course gave it Avraham Yehuda – Yehuda being spelled with an “aleph” rather than a “hey”. In 1918, my grandfather had “problems” with the British army who wanted to conscript him. Shiar came to his rescue By giving an affidavit stating his age – naturally older than he actually was! We can see this discrepancy in age by comparing the age given on his marriage certificate, when there was no need to inflate it! It is lucky that this was prior to the era of computers when this discrepancy would have been detected in a flash. This was not my grandfather’s first army problems. in about 1906 he ran away from the Russian army and came to England on the way to America. However in England he met my grandmother and they soon got married.
Just as with my grandmother, different documents give different birthdates for my grandfather. The affidavit gives the maiden name of my grandfather’s mother Liba as Niehaus, and also the date and place of her marriage – 6 January 1867 in Przedecz. Although there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of the maiden name, this is not so with the marriage date. The reason is that according to this affidavit, my grandfather was born in 1876, but according to his own marriage certificate he was born in 1873! Therefore, the date of his parents’ marriage might also have been altered! To add to the confusion, a further date 10 April 1878 is given in the Przedecz Residents List!
Almost the entire Zielinski family of Przedecz perished in the Holocaust. The Jewish Community of Przedecz was finally liquidated on 7 Iyar 5702 (24 April 1942), and the 7 Iyar has been established as a Memorial Day for the Jews of Przedecz. I have therefore suggested to the descendants of my Grandfather Chaim Zielinski, that each year on 7 Iyar they light a Yahrzeit candle and that the men say Kaddish in memory of the members of the Zielinski family and of the all the other members of the Przedecz Jewish Community who perished in the Holocaust.
NOTE: An account in far greater detail of the above can be found in my book “The Zielinski Family of Przedecz” and in the chapter of my autobiography volume 5 entitled “Amongst the six million”.
a) my direct ancestors
(Almost all those who were alive at the time of the Second World War perished in the Holocaust, probably in Chelmno.)
Abram Lewek (Avraham Yehudah) ZIELINSKI (my great great grandfather) married Ryfka (or according to another record Chaya Ruchla) ZOLNA (my great great grandmother) (dates of birth and marriage unknown).
Their son was Azriel ZIELINSKI (my great grandfather), born 22 June 1845. (He died about the beginning of the 1930s – Yahrzeit 22 Tevet.) He married Libe NEJHAUS (my great grandmother), born 1844 (day and month unknown). (She died probably in the 1920s - Yahrzeit 3 Shevat.) Date of their marriage unknown.
Libe NEJHAUS’ parents were Naftal Wolek NEJHAUS (my great great grandfather) and Chana PRZEDECKA (my great great grandmother) (dates of birth and marriage unknown).
Children of Azriel and Liba
1) Rachel, born 21 April 1866.
2) Szawe (Sheva), born 3 August 1870.
3) Szai (Yeshayahu), born 2 March 1873.
4) Alie, born 8 September 1875.
5) Chaim (my grandfather after whom I am named), born 10 April 1878.
6) Sure Laje (Sarah Leah), born 1881 (day and month unknown).
7) Pessa, born 6 March 1883.
The next generations
1) Rachel: nothing is known of her marriage and children, since it would seem that on marriage she did not continue living in Przedecz.
2) Szawe (Sheva): married Icek (Itzik) ZYNGIERMAN (date of birth and marriage unknown).
i) Moszek, born 1903.
ii) Miryam Chaya, born 1903.
iii) Hersz, born 1912.
iv) Avraham. He married Temer.
vii) Rachel-Leah. She married Chaim ROACH.
3) Szai (Yeshayahu): married Sura Gitel PLOCKI, born 21 October 1874 (date of marriage
unknown), the daughter of Abram PLOCKI and Frymet RYBINSKA (dates of birth and marriage
i) Sheina Ruchla, born 25 November 1897. She married Yoseph ZYCHLINSKY and they had 4 children: Yaacov, Yehudah, Chaim and Golda. (Golda survived the Holocaust, married Tzvi GRABINSKY and they then went to live in Haifa Israel.)
ii) Channah Ryfka, born 21 August 1899.
iii) Naftal Wolek (Woolf), born 22 October 1901.
iv) Chaim Hersz, born 1 February 1904.
v) Genendal, born 7 November 1907. She married Fishel TOPOLSKI (date of birth and marriage unknown) and they had 4 children: Luba – the names of the other 3 are not known.
vi) Laja (Leah), born 30 November 1909.
4) Alie: married Ruchla (Rechil) ARONOWICZ, born 12 July 1875 in Ozorkow (date of marriage unknown), the daughter of Szmul ARONOWICZ and Ruchla BAUJAN (dates of birth and marriage unknown). (It seems that Alie died just before the Second World War.)
i) Abram Lajbus, born 14 December 1900 in Ozorkow.
ii) Frajda (Freida), born 14 November 1907.
iii) Rywin (Reuven), born 1 December 1909. He married Ziporrah MORGENSTERN, born 5 May 1912, the daughter of Isser and Rachel MORGENSTERN (dates of birth and marriage unknown) and they had 2 children - Isser, born 18 September 1933; and Channah, born 28 June 1937. Before the Second World War they moved to Lodz. Reuven died on 16 December 1937 and was buried on the following day in the Lodz Jewish New Cemetery. (His tombstone is still in excellent condition.) His widow and 2 children were deported to Chelmno on 25 March 1942.
iv) A stillborn son was born in 1907.
(The Przedecz Yizkor Book states that Alie also had a son called Shmuel and there is a photograph in this Yizkor book which includes a Shmuel ZIELINSKI, but it is possible that it was not the son of Alie.)
5) Chaim (my grandfather). In the early 1900s he came to England.
6) Sure Laje (Sarah Leah): nothing is known of her marriage and children, since it would seem that on marriage she did not continue living in Przedecz.
7) Pessa: she married Mendel NIEMCZOWKO (date of marriage unknown) and it seems she had no children. She died in the early 1930s.
b) Cousins etc.
Szai (Shaya) was the brother of my great grandfather Azriel. Szai was born 17 July 1839 and he married Fajga Frymet RUBINSKI vel RYBINSKI, born 4 October 1838 (date of marriage not known), the daughter of Michal RUBINSKI vel RYBINSKI and Ruchla Malka DANIELSKA (dates of birth and marriage unknown). They had 5 children: Ruchel, born 27 June 1861; Michal Alie, born 3 December 1864; Israel, born 6 September 1867; Myjse (Moshe), born 15 March 1875; Chawe (Chava), born 13 December 1877. Michal Alie married Chene GLINBLAT, born 12 April 1888, the daughter of Hersz GLINBLAT and Ryfka OLEWSKA (dates of birth and marriage unknown). They had a son Hersz, born 5 May 1908. Ruchel married Szulim Jacob PRZEDECKI, born 7 December 1866, the son of Chaim PRZEDECKI and Ryfka RAWSKA (dates of birth and marriage unknown) and they had 2 children – Michal Ryben, born 3 September 1886; and Alie vel Atie, born 16 May 1888. At least most of the above cousins came to England at about the beginning of the 20th century.