My name is Chaim, and I am named after my grandfather Chaim Zielinski who arrived in England at the beginning of the 20th century, from a place called Przedecz which is in Poland. He died in 1934, nearly nine years before I was born.
All my four grandparents came to England from Eastern Europe at that period. However, unlike grandparents Simons, Nagli and Reichert (Richardson) who came to England with their entire families, my Grandfather Zielinski was the only member of his family to come. The rest of his family remained in Poland and, with the exception of a few members who died before the Second World War, they almost all perished in the Holocaust.
When I was young, I took an interest in the genealogy of all branches of my family, and I would ask my grandparents to supply me with details. My Grandmother Simons (nee Nagli) died when I was only six years old and I was therefore too young to discuss genealogy with her. Her husband, my Grandfather Simons, died three years later, and by that time I had had a discussion with him on his ancestry. He told me that his grandfather, whose name was Yoel, had gone to Eretz Israel (I believe he said Jerusalem) at, I assume, towards the end of the 19th century. He had gone blind and went into an old age home or home for the blind. On the occasion of my grandfather’s wedding in 1901, he had received a telegram from him. That was all he told me about him. I have tried to make inquiries in Israel with the various burial societies in Jerusalem, and also with the Blind Home in Jerusalem which was established in 1901, to find out more information about him, but, as yet, without success. A difficulty is that I do not know, what surname was used by the family in Russia - I am sure it was not Simons!
My Grandmother Zielinski (nee Reichert) was the last of my grandparents to die - I was 14 at the time 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 went on a “Holocaust Study Trip” to Poland and the Czech Republic. These trips have been operating for several years, are designed to teach at first-hand what occurred during the Holocaust. I felt that this was the ideal opportunity for her to learn what happened to the Zielinski branch of her family.
I first wrote to Betty Zielin (Zielinski) in England to ask her the precise name of the place from where her father had come from. (The garbled name “Shtaich” could hardly surfice for any further study!) 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.
The latter part of this book had brief biographies of the people of Przedecz who perished in the Holocaust. These included a large number of people whose surname was Zielinski and I made a photocopy of these pages. At the time I had no idea whatsoever where the geographic location of Przedecz was. I therefore opened a number of atlases on Poland which were in the Yad Vashem library and searched for and found the location of Przedecz.
There were four editors of the Przedecz “Yizkor Book”, which had been published in 1974. I tracked them down and learned that two of them had since died. The remaining two, were 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.
I learned that this Holocaust Study Trip in which my daughter was about to participate, would try to incorporate into their itinerary visits to places where ancestors of the participants came from, provided they did not involve a real deviation from their planned route. I studied the planned itinerary which my daughter had received and saw that on the second day they would be travelling from Lodz to Chelmno. By a slight detour, they would be able to go via Przedecz. I spoke to Ezra Hartman, the organizer of this trip and he promised to consider going via Przedecz.
My daughter and I made a list of all the Zielinskis listed in this “Yizkor Book” - there were 61 of them. Since a married woman takes the surname of her husband, there were obviously an even higher number of Zielinski’s from Przedecz who perished in the Holocaust. She also took some Yahrzeit candles to light in what had been the Jewish Cemetery of Przedecz. From this “Yizkor Book” we learned that all the tombstones had been uprooted. Before I learned that the cemetery had been destroyed, I suggested that she try and find any tombstones bearing the name Zielinski, copy out their inscriptions and also photograph these tombstones.
My daughter went on this trip and a few days later, the father of one of the other participants heard from his own daughter that some sort of detour had been made during the journey. From this, I assumed that they had managed to visit Przedecz. However, when Rachel returned, she told me that although the organisers had considered going through Przedecz, they found that the road leading to this place which was marked on the map, no longer existed. An alternative route would have involved a much larger detour, and since their schedule was very tight, a visit was not possible. Rachel did however recite the names of the Zielinski family who perished in the Holocaust, in a memorial service which they held at Auschwitz.
After Rachel returned to Israel, I wrote a long letter to Betty Zielin in England giving details of my daughter’s experiences, and incorporated some details of the former Jewish community of Przedecz. She passed this letter on to her brother, Monty, who at the time was writing at the request of his daughter Avril, a family history - both of his side of the family and his wife’s side. Monty Zielin (Zielinski) incorporated into his manuscript the facts I had uncovered on Przedecz and also gave me a list of his father’s brothers and sisters.
Several months later, a long article appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” which said that the Polish authorities were prepared to allow Jews or their heirs to claim property which they had owned prior to the Second World War. This offer was open only for a short period, and property not claimed would be expropriated by the Polish authorities. Apparently much had already been expropriated. My immediate reaction was, why allow any Government, let alone the Polish Government which had such a record of anti-Semitism, expropriate Jewish property. I therefore determined to investigate whether the Zielinski family owned property in Przedecz?
The “Jerusalem Post” article gave the names of three law firms in Israel who were dealing with property reclamation. I telephoned one of them who informed me that one could not proceed without the exact address of the property in Poland. The only way to obtain such an address, (short of travelling to Poland, and reseaching land registry records - assuming the Poles would allow it) was by contacting former residents of Przedecz now living in Israel, and asking them if they remembered addresses of 60 years ago!
A program on my computer enabled me to obtain any telephone number in Israel. From a 1974 list of survivors from Przedecz appearing in the “Yizkor Book”, I managed to draw up a list of telephone numbers of people who were still alive. I contacted them, but the vast majority could not remember addresses after all this time - many could not even remember the Zielinski family. However, a few did remember some addresses - at least the streets if not always the numbers of the houses.
I then contacted the other two law firms mentioned in the “Jerusalem Post” article. They both told me that the initial stage would be to find out in whose name the house was registered, whether it was still standing and whether it had already been expropriated. Just for these initial investigations they would charge $650 plus VAT!. One of the lawyers also added that unless the property was a large one in a big city, it was not worth the outlay and trouble, both for the lawyer and for the client. I thus reluctantly concluded that there was little point in proceeding with such a claim. There were so many obstacles and the chances of success were very small indeed!
However, all the foregoing sparked an interest in me to research my immediate branch of the Zielinski family of Przedecz.