The subject of genealogy has become very popular lately. I myself have always been fascinated by my own family genealogy. Three of my grandparents came over from Eastern Europe together with their families at the end of the 19th century at the same time as the large wave of Jewish immigration to the West.
The exception was my maternal grandfather Chaim Zielinski. He ran away from the Russian army in about 1906 and came to England on the way to America. However in England he met my grandmother and they soon got married.
Later, he again had army problems, this time with the British Army during the First World War. However this time he solved the problem by getting an old uncle to give 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.
Whilst on this question of army exemptions during the First World War, my grandmother’s youngest brother got his “exemption” in a different way. He went along to the induction office, sat down and coughed and coughed and coughed! The officer there then said, “Throw that man who is coughing out of here.” He probably thought he had tuberculosis!
Some years later in 1924, he came on Aliyah with his family and went to live in Petach Tiqva. His family’s belongings were transported to his house by camel. Soon after he arrived, he planted a palm tree which can today be seen at the junction between Rothschild Street and Rabbi Kook Street in Petach Tiqva. Today it is an enormous tree!
My grandmother had come over to England in 1898 together with her cousin and settled in an apartment in Parfet Street off the Commercial Road in the East End of London. During the following years she was followed by her family. She was a seamstress and when she arrived she worked in one of the many “sweatshops” in the area. There people were expected to work on Shabbat as well, and sadly many succumbed. But not my grandmother. On Friday afternoon she would get up and leave and not return until the beginning of the following week. She was very soon fired for doing this. So she bought her own Singer sewing machine – (I even remember this machine about fifty years later and it was still working) – and she did better financially working independently. The reward for observing Shabbat.
Censuses were taken every ten years in England from 1801 onwards. They are strictly confidential for 100 years. Thus the results of the 1901 census have only recently been made public and they have been put on the Internet. My grandmother should have appeared on it. I therefore made a search using all the possible combinations of her name. Her surname was then Reichart, although it was at first very likely in England, Richards (as per her father’s tombstone, who died in 1903, soon after his arrival). Later it became Richardson. Her first name was Hinda but the British officials wrote it down as Annie – don’t ask me why?! However none of these variations appear on the census results. Very likely she didn’t fill up a census form. I believe she can be fined for that – with compound interest it would be astronomical today!
Her husband was the only member of his family to come over from Eastern Europe. One of his brothers came over in 1913 to investigate the possibilities of moving to London but when he saw the standard of Yiddishkeit there, he concluded that he could not bring up his children in London and he returned home. Although letters were exchanged between the family, when the Second World War began, the correspondence ceased and nothing more was ever heard of the family.
I never made any attempt to investigate the genealogy of the Zielinski family, until towards the end of 1996, when my daughter Rachel, then aged 17 went on a “Holocaust Study Trip” to Poland and the Czech Republic. I felt that this would be a good opportunity to investigate this branch of my family.
I wrote to an aunt of mine in England to ascertain the name of the city where her father had come from. Armed with the name Pscheich as is known in Yiddish – Przedecz in Polish - I went to “Yad Vashem” 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 in Yiddish 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. I recollect that the photocopier in Yad Vashem was an old model and each time one wanted a photocopy one had to insert four coins of 10 agorot each. Since people do not normally carry around large quantities of such coins, one could exchange money there for packets of 10 agorot coins.
At that 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 its location.
There were four editors of the Przedecz “Yizkor Book,” which had been published over 20 years earlier in 1974. I tracked them down but 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. (New York and Nebraska) and one in France (Paris). It was in October 1996 that I wrote to all of them. After introducing myself and explaining my precise connection with the Zielinski family, I requested the answer to several questions. “Are you from the same Zielinski family and if so how are you related to me? What further information can you give me about the Zielinski’s? I notice from this ‘Sefer Yizkor’ a large number of people with the name Zielinski from Pscheich who perished in the Holocaust. Are all these from the same family?” For the Zielinski living in Paris, I had my letter translated into French.
I never received replies from any of these three Zielinskis. In two cases - the Nebraska and Paris addressees - 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 have been 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 Zielinskis 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.
It was in December 1997 that a long article appeared in the “Jerusalem Post” headed “Every house has a story” and subtitled “Now is the time for Polish Jews and their descendents to reclaim family property in Poland. Real estate prices are rising and unclaimed property will eventually be expropriated.” 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 decided to investigate whether the Zielinski family owned property in Przedecz?
The “Jerusalem Post” article had a sub-article, “How to stake a claim for property in Poland” and 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 researching 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!
I also 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.
Although there were many obstacles and the chances of regaining anything concrete from any possible property which had been owned by the family was very small, this sparked an interest in me to investigate the genealogy of the Zielinski family. As I shall explain in detail, following my initial research, I brought out in 1998 my book “The Zielinski Family of Przedecz.” In November of that year “Supplement Number 1” to that book was published, and in about 2004, I integrated these two books and any new research I had made into a composite book. This latest book only appears on my website, together with photographs and documents.
My research was basically divided into three topics: i) how to do genealogical research, in particular on Polish Jewry, ii) the history of Przedecz, iii) the genealogy and brief biographies of the members of the Zielinski family.
When I began this research I was basically a novice on genealogy and had to begin from square one. Fortunately this was already the era of the Internet and one could obtain the general information one required from this source. I downloaded a large amount of material, although I must admit that in the end I used very little of it.
Amongst this general material that I downloaded were articles on “How to Trace your Family Tree – Suggestions for the Beginning Genealogist,” “Genealogy Resources on the Internet,” “Compiling an Oral Family History” and “Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the Internet.”
A journal on Jewish Genealogy which is published four times a year in the U.S.A. is “Avotaynu.” On the Internet is an “Index to the First Twelve Volumes of Avotaynu.” I downloaded this index and then went through it (most especially the section on Poland) marking the articles which I thought might help with my research. I then ordered the appropriate journals at the Jewish National Library and photocopied the articles I had marked off. These included articles such as the “Jewish Historical Institute in Poland,” “Jewish Genealogical Research in Poland” and “Directory of Polish State Archives.”
I also downloaded general genealogical material on Polish Archives. Much of this was put on the Internet by the “Polish Genealogical Society of America.” Amongst this material was a list of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of the various “Archives in Poland.”
One of the major difficulties (if one does not know Polish) is the language difficulty. Even if you write to an archive in English, they will reply in Polish! To assist the researcher, this “Polish Genealogical Society of America” has brought out a “Polish Letter Writing Guide.” They recommend writing to local civil records office in Polish. A long list of common phrases used in such letters is given in both English with the Polish equivalent. Apart from the difficulties in language, many of the letters in Polish have various symbols on them. Generally one’s computer will not have these fonts and one will have to add them by hand.
Another Internet site gives where one can find the various “Vital records in Poland” – namely, births, marriages and deaths. As I shall show later, this isn’t as simple as it may seem. I have been told that records are not always where one expects them to be or maybe they are no longer extant.
I shall now come on to the subject of Przedecz. A section of my book gives a history of Przedecz (which although it only had a population of a few thousand, had the status of a city), with particular emphasis on the Jewish community there. Even though the maximum number of Jews there was less than nine hundred (nearly thirty per cent of the total population), 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.
I believe that this chapter in my book is the only account on Przedecz in English. I also included in it a road map showing the Jewish institutions before the Second World War, and also the Synagogue; both of these were drawn from memory by one of the former residents, Reuven Yamnik. Almost all the information for this section of that book I gleaned from the various articles in this Yizkor Book. A few pieces of information I got from some former residents now living in Israel.
The Jewish cemetery in Przedecz had been destroyed by the Nazis. There is a Cemetery Project by the “Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies” (AJGS) in which a report on the state of Jewish cemeteries in Europe is given. This appears on the Internet and I included it in my book. When my daughter Ayelet managed to visit Przedecz in 1998 (described later) she photographed this cemetery and the memorial which had been erected by the Local Council. Later a plaque was added to it by one of the families who had relatives buried there.
In June 1998, I sent a letter to the AJGS enclosing several of these photographs and I also pointed out a small error of fact in their report. My letter somehow reached Gary Mokotoff who passed it on to the Cemetery Project. In his letter to me, Mokotoff added “I have a personal interest in Przedecz. There was a Mokotow family living there. Moshe Mokotow of Tel Aviv was one of the authors of the town’s yizkor book.” The AJGS inserted this correction into their report and gave me the credit. For a time they also included a photograph I had sent them.
The main objective of my book was to research the Zielinski family. As we have seen above, my attempts to make contact with the Zielinskis living in the United States and France had been totally unsuccessful. The Yizkor book gave 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.
I contacted these people by telephone in order to see if they could give me information regarding the Zielinski family. I kept a diary record of these conversations. It began in December 1997 and went on until February 1998. Here are some extracts.
16 December: Reuven Yamnik: Many Jews in Przedecz owned property including members of the Zielinski family. Alya Zielinski owned a house. [At a later date he amended this to a rented house.]
17 December: Reuven Yamnik: Alya lived in the New Market. There were no numbers on the houses as far as he remembers. Yeshayahu the brother of Alya lived in Warshavska Street, maybe no.1. Yeshayahu’s wife was called Sarah. He suggests I speak to Levi Schweitzer.
17 December: Levi Schweitzer: He confirms Alya and Yeshayahu were brothers. Alya lived in the New Market. Yeshayahu lived in Warshavska Street.
18 December: Yehoshua Davidovitz: He remembers very little: He lived in the Old Market. There were tailors in the Old Market. He suggests I contact Bela Yachimovitz. He doesn’t remember the Gerrer shul in Przedecz.
18 December: Bela Yachimovitz: She lived in the same house as Alya. The house did not belong to him but to someone called Voltershaw(?). She thinks this house was demolished. The house was in a square. She does not remember where Yeshayahu lived. [Whilst I was on the telephone, her son who was listening asked why I am asking her all these questions. She is not well. This ended the telephone call.]
18 December: Mela Brand: She does not remember the Zielinski family.
18 December: Galilit Panini: She doesn’t remember details of the Zielinski family, although she remembers the name Zielinski - a big family.
18 December: Moshe Mokotov: Alya lived in the New Market on a corner house. Possibly Bela Yachimovitz lived in the same building. Does not remember where Yeshayahu lived nor does he remember the Gerrer shul.
20 December: Esther Berg: (sister of Galilit Panini) She left Przedecz when she was young and so she does not remember details of the Zielinski family. She does remember that there was a widower in the family.
20 December: Fishel Goldman: Does not remember. Thinks there were numbers on the houses.
20 December: Reuven Yamnik: Alya lived in a rented house together with father of Bela Yachimovitz. Afterwards Bela went to live in 9 Kilinskiago Street. Alya also moved somewhere else – it seems to a rented house. Yeshayahu lived at 1 Warshavska Street. He owned the house.
29 December: Reuven Yamnik: Mendel Niemczowko lived on 2nd floor of a house and Itzik Zingerman on 1st floor. [I had meanwhile received a document from my Uncle Monty Zielin (described later) showing that they were the brothers-in-law of Alya and Yeshayahu Zielinski.] The house was owned by Zingerman and was situated in the Old Market. Itzik Zingerman was a blecher (a person who smelts metals).
3 January: Husband of Golda Grabinsky: He informed me that his wife had died just 5 weeks earlier. She was related to both the Zielinski and Zychlinsky families. Yeshayahu was her grandfather and Fishel Topolski his wife’s uncle. [Had I managed to speak to Golda, I am sure that I would have gained valuable additional information about the Zielinski family. ]
7 January: Sarah Mandlinger: Did not remember details but remembered that there were a lot of Zielinskis. She thought that they were more than one family – not related.
27 January: Moshe Mokotov: Did not remember if all the names in the Yizkor book are people who perished in the Holocaust or if it includes people who died in the years beforehand.
29 January: Fishel Goldman: Did not remember the name of Alya’s wife. He will ask his sister Bela. He mentioned something about Alya’s son Shmuel being ill – but was hesitant when pressed on this question.
1 February: Levi Schweitzer: Did not remember the name of Alya’s wife. He confirmed that Alya lived in the New Market and Yeshayahu next to him at 1 Warshavska Street. Before being sent to Chelmno, the Jews were put in the Catholic Church.
11 February: Yehoshua Davidovitz. He thinks that Alya’s son Reuven died before the war. There is a relative of Morgenstern (the father-in-law of Reuven Zielinski) alive in America today (Saul Morgenstern). He could not remember Alya’s wife’s name and could not confirm whether Eliahu Zielinski (appearing in the Yizkor Book) is the same person as Alya Zielinski.
16 February: Fishel Goldman: He had checked with Bela. Wife of Alya was called Rachel.
28 February: Levi Schweitzer and also Reuven Yamnik: They each gave me the names of the various educational establishments in Przedecz.
During the course of the above 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. [Some of the questions I subsequently asked the former residents of Przedecz arose from this conversation. ]
From this meeting I learned several new facts regarding the Zielinski family. These included: Nachman Zielinski was a cousin. The daughter of Itzik Zingerman married a Goldman girl. The second son of Alya was Chaim Alta. He did not remember the names Rachael or Sarah Leah (two sisters of Alya). He also did not remember the Zielinski parents Azriel and Lieba. The Eliyahu Zielinski mentioned in the Yizkor Book is Alya. Alya and Yeshayahu generally davened in the “Chevrat Tehillim” shul.
Alya lived in the same house as Yoseph Goldman, the father of Bela Yachimovitz, with Bela living on the opposite side of the street. The house where Alya lived was owned by a Christian named Francis – it was a two family house, on one side lived Yoseph Goldman, who had a bakery. Alya lived on the other side. Francis knocked down this house and built a larger house of 3-4 stories in the 1930s. Alya then moved to the opposite side of the street and rented a house and courtyard. Yoseph moved to 9 Kilinskiago Street and took his bakery there.
Reuven married Zipporah and went to live in Lodz. He was handsome and tall. He occupied himself with local cultural activities and the library. Maybe he also gave lectures. Alya’s wife was a housewife. He didn’t remember what the children did.
Yeshayahu was a member of the Committee for Visiting the Sick. He helped ill people who had no-one to help them. His son Chaim-Hersh was on the management Committee of the Jewish Library whose functions included buying books and giving lectures. Another son Woolf was active in the Hachshara for Aliyah. The daughter Sheina helped the needy. The trade of the son-in-law Fishel Topolski was preparing leather for shoes.
Itzik Zingerman (Sheva’s husband) was gabbai of the Shul. Hersh was the son of Sheva. They also had a daughter Rachael Leah. There was another son called Alta who lived in Lodz.
Pese (Alya’s sister) was ill – she had blotches all over her face – and he thought she died before the war. [I recollect my grandmother telling me that she died in about 1933. ] Mendel’s (husband of Pese) occupation was a travelling salesman. He was a member of one of the city’s committees who would fix prices for Shechitah, the Mikvah and salaries of the Rav and the Shochet. He was also a comedian.
During this interview he also gave me additional information regarding Przedecz. These included facts on the activities which took place at the Jewish library, the physical living conditions (water from the well, when electricity was installed), market day, schools and curricula, political groups, and local Jewish elections.
I also asked him from where they got the information for the Yizkor Book. He answered that on every Erev Shabbat they would go round the houses and collect money for books. From the list of donors they were able to prepare lists for the Yizkor book of Przedecz and that the names in this book were arranged according to the streets of Przedecz. I then asked where these lists of donors were and he answered that they no longer exist. However from a document someone showed me, I think these lists may be in the “Jewish Historical Institute of Poland.”
Until 1925 the Gerrer Chassidim had a shul which was located in a rented house in the courtyard of Yeshayahu Zielinski’s house. I tried to track down further information on this shul and on 18 December 1997 I spoke to Avraham Moshe Segal who had an archive and was an expert on the Gerrer Chassidim in Poland. He didn’t remember such a shul nor did he have any archives on it. In addition he did not know anyone from Przedecz.
From an article which I had photocopied from “Avotaynu” I learned of the existence of lists with the names of over 200,000 Jews of the Lodz Ghetto. I immediately realised that they could be relevant to my research, since several members of the Zielinski family had moved to Lodz from Przedecz.
I first searched for these lists in the Jewish National Library but they were not there. So I then went to the Yad Vashem Library and found a set of four volumes listing all the members of the Lodz ghetto, which had been arranged in alphabetical order using a computer. I looked under the letter “Z” but could not find Zielinski. However there was a “volume 5” which was a supplement containing names which had been omitted and there I found under Zielinski, Reuven’s wife and two children – but not Reuven.
I then went to the archives room of Yad Vashem and found microfilms of the two original lists, which had been prepared on the basis of addresses in the Lodz ghetto. One had been prepared in 1940 and the other about 1942. In order to use these microfilms one first looks in the computerised alphabetical lists to determine the address of a specific person in the Lodz ghetto and then one is able to find his name by looking up the street and house number in the microfilms. The latter list also gives the dates of birth, and sometimes the former addresses of the inhabitants and the dates that they were sent to the concentration camps. I ordered photocopies of the relevant frames in the microfilms.
As I mentioned, the name of Reuven was absent. Why? In Tel Aviv there is “The Organization of Former Residents of Lodz” (OFRLI). They have in their records about a third of the 180,000 Jews buried in the Lodz Jewish cemetery. It was in February 1998 that I telephoned them and asked them if the name Reuven Zielinski appears on their lists. They checked but it was not there. Since only a third of the names appear, it is by no means conclusive. A few weeks later I again contacted them and they said in addition to the very likely possibility that he had died before the Lodz ghetto list of 1940 was prepared, there is also the possibility that he fled to Russia, as many others had done, in the hope that later they would be able to bring out their families. At the time I had to leave it at that.
On the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University are situated the “Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People.” I thought that maybe I will find something there on the Zielinski family of Przedecz. I went there, looked at their catalogue and found they had a few fragmentary records from Przedecz from the mid-19th century. I ordered the file and found a few documents on the Zielinski family, written of course in Polish and in the Napoleonic format, as decreed by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. I had these documents photographed. I might mention that the physical conditions of the room were appalling and were not conducive to preserving irreplaceable documents. All the researchers were cramped together, which resulted in all the ancient documents almost being pushed on top of each other.
An uncle of mine 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.”
In addition to all the above sources of information, there was the very important source – the Yizkor Book of Przedecz which gave in Yiddish brief biographies of those who perished in the Holocaust.
From all this information, 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 have since filled 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.
My 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 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. The itinerary included Lodz and I suggested she try and photograph the building that Reuven Zielinski had lived in and also another building where it was possible that a relative had lived. She was also going to the cemetery and I asked if she could see if Reuven was buried there.
On their subsequent route from Lodz to Chelmno, it seemed from their programme that they would pass by the junction with Przedecz. I asked if she could manage to incorporate a visit there. If so, she should photograph amongst other things, the site of the Jewish cemetery, the site of the former Shul and the houses where the family had lived.
As soon as she returned to Israel, she came to see me and I saw she had managed to do almost all the assignments and brought me a large number of photographs. In Lodz she had found where Reuven had lived. That particular building had been demolished to build some sort of boutique. The house of the other relative was still standing.
She had gone to the cemetery office and there they had found the burial certificate for Reuven who had died aged 28 in December 1937 and they made a photocopy for her. She then went into the cemetery and found the grave. The stone was in perfect condition and was one of the only ones in that area of the cemetery. My initial reaction was that the Nazis had removed most of the tombstones. However on reflection I concluded that there could be another explanation. It was only just before the beginning of the Second World War and maybe not many burials had taken place in that part of the cemetery or stones had not yet been erected over the fresh graves. This subject needs further research.
The group even managed to make a detour and pay a brief visit to the cemetery in Przedecz. Another leader of the group was studying the life of the Rabbi of Przedecz, Rav Yoseph Zemelman, who later escaped and took part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This leader was thus able to support her in making the detour to Przedecz. To their credit, the Polish authorities had not built over the graves, but had planted trees and had put up a memorial stone. However over the site of the Shul destroyed by the Nazis, they had in the 1960s built apartments. In one of her photographs, one can see the occupant closing the window. Maybe they were frightened we had come to claim the site.
I had also made another attempt to obtain information but unfortunately nothing came of it. I had sent at the end of December 1997 to the “Polish Genealogical Society of America,” a completed “Ancestor Index File Submission Form” together with a letter asking whether they could fill in gaps in my information. One of their volunteers replied saying that I would have to get documents from Poland adding that “we advise our members to give up because the price is ridicules…. The way I see it – poor people paid their dues when they were recorded. Now again they have to pay if you want information. Does the government own it? Such a steep price?”
She wrote to the Polish archives at Warsaw to ask what records that had of Przedecz. They replied they had none but they would look if they were anywhere else. I had also written to these archives in Warsaw at the beginning of January 1998. Following a prompt acknowledgment of my letter, I received in June of that year a reply in Polish from the archives in Torun. They wrote that the records of Jewish births of Przedecz were destroyed probably during the Second World War. There were some records in the books of the population register of permanent residents of Przedecz between 1885 and 1931. These could be found in the archives in Torun.
However from other sources, different information was received! In 1993, the Office Director of the Museum of Konin wrote to an inquirer, “Books of registrations birth and death are held in Town Hall of Przedecz (birth 1902-1916, 1916-1934, death 1903-1916). Another volume and all registrations of marriage has been burned during the War. Registrations from years before 1902 are, propaply (sic), in State Archives in Poznzn (till 1985) and Bydgoszcz (1975-1902).”
From Howard Kushel I received an e-mail in January 2004, “Unfortunately for Jewish records there are only the death records for 1875-1887 and these are found in the Poznan Archives…”
Yet a further “version” I received in a telephone call with Gary Mokatoff of “Avotaynu” in December 1998. He told me that these vital records (births etc) do exist. For the last 100 years they are to be found in Przedecz. He added that he knows this fact because Moshe Mokotov got a birth certificate from there of his sister who died in the Holocaust. Those more than 100 years old are to be found in the archives in Warsaw.
The bottom line of all this is that as yet I have no photocopies of original vital records of the Zielinski family.
In November 1998, I brought out “Supplement Number 1” to my book in which I included my latest research. The contents of most of this supplement are the photographs which Ayelet had taken.
Earlier I wrote that I had sent some current photographs of the cemetery to the “Cemetery Project” and they had put one of them on the Internet. One day I got a telephone call from a Noach Hall of Telshestone near Jerusalem. He had seen this photograph and his family also came from Przedecz. [My mother vaguely remembers hearing from her mother the name Halltreict, which was Hall’s family name in Przedecz. The latter were then living in London.] For a number of years he had been researching his family genealogy. Soon after, he told me that he was going on a Holocaust Study Trip and he intended taking a day to visit Przedecz. I asked that if he had time could he photograph some sites connected with the Zielinski family and if he should see any archival documents mentioning this name photocopy them.
After he returned I met with him in the lobby of the Central Zionist Archives. He showed me the photographs he had taken. Amongst them was one where the house of Yeshayahu had been. I said “had been” since he was told that a few years earlier it had been rebuilt. He also related that when he came to photograph it, half the city came out of their houses. Possibly they were worried that the Jews would claim it!
He had also photocopied from the archives in Przedecz a number of documents which mentioned the name Zielinski. Soon after, he faxed me copies of these documents.
After I had brought out my “Supplement No. 1,” I received two documents from my aunt in England. One was a copy of my grandparents’ marriage certificate and the other the affidavit “certifying” the “age” of my grandfather in order to gain exemption from the British army. Contained in these documents was information which I had not known until then.
The latter document gives the maiden name of my grandfather’s mother 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!
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.
Whilst filling up these forms I made some errors and to prevent having “crossings out,” I requested a bottle of “Tippex.” Whilst using it, it rolled over onto my trousers. I never succeeded in removing this whitener from these trousers!
Before going to hand them in, I made a photocopy of all my completed forms. When I went to give the forms to the clerk, he looked at them and said that I had not written that these people had perished in the Holocaust. Surely had they not, I wouldn’t have been filling up these forms! So I then added on each form (and on my photocopies) “perished in the Holocaust.”
A few years later all the information on these forms was transferred to a computer and at the beginning of 2005 it was put onto the Internet. I read that within a short period this site had been viewed three million times.
A side advantage of this website was that people discovered other relatives of theirs. This would occur when two different people would register the same victim. This indeed happened with me.
As soon as this site became available, I entered it to see if the names I had registered had already been entered and saw that about 25 of them had. I also saw that for a number of them, a Sinai Aharonovitz of Tel-Aviv had also filled up forms describing himself as “cousin” to relatives of mine. Incidentally he had also mistakenly registered Reuven Zielinski as a Holocaust victim.
I decided to try and track down this new found relative. Maybe he could also supply me with details I did not know about the family. His name did not appear in the Bezek telephone book. The Ministry of Interior told me that he was no longer alive – not too surprising since he would have been over a century old!
I asked someone who was experienced in genealogical research how to go about tracking down the family who had lived in a certain apartment in the 1950s. He suggested that I go to this apartment in Tel-Aviv and knock on the doors of the neighbours and ask. However Tel-Aviv is not just “round the corner” and I found a quicker method. I entered the Bezek site 144 on the Internet, typed in the name of the street and the city Tel-Aviv and developed a reasonably quick way to find out the names and telephone numbers of people living in that and the adjacent buildings.
With this information, and following a few telephone calls, I was able to locate close relatives of Sinai Aharonovitz. They were pleased to hear from me and asked me for a copy of my book which I sent them. However from our conversations we saw that when Sinai had written “cousins” it also meant a more distant relationship. We never worked out exactly how we were related to each other.
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….”
A few weeks later he sent me a page from the Polish Business Directory of 1929. The entry for Przedecz contained the name Zielinski Ch. and Zielinski A. In the accompanying letter he wrote that the Ch “is Chaim because there aren’t Polish names which start with ‘Ch’.”
A few weeks later I received a beautifully coloured brochure on glossy paper on Przedecz and the immediate vicinity – in Polish. Needless to say I immediately acknowledged with thanks all these things he sent me.
A few months later, he sent me by e-mail a current colour photograph from Przedecz. In his opinion it was the house owned by Francis and in which Alya lived. Zbigniew told me that his mother had told him that this house owner’s name was Francus and he was a German. A few days later I received an old photograph which included this Francus. The next photographs I received were of buildings where the Cheder and the school had been situated.
Soon after this, Zbigniew 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 made a big photocopy of this street map and next to all the Hebrew words wrote an English translation. When thanking me he added, “I recognised some of the houses and places. Most of the streets are the same names but many buildings vanished without a trace, For example: synagogue, psalms club, ritual bath, abattoir and ‘Young Mizrachi’ building. The others changed their destiny: library, post office, rabbi’s house, house of study, bank and Betar building. They are dwelling houses now.” He concluded by saying that this Yizkor Book should be translated into Polish and that many people should read it.
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 gave me a brief summary of his ancestry in Przedecz and suggested we share information, which of course I readily agreed to. Very soon after, he informed me that he was going to Poland to search out his roots. In reply I told him that he would likely find relevant material in the Przedecz Town Hall and at the Jewish Historical Society of Poland which is located in Warsaw. Those were all the sources I knew of at the time. I also told him; “I have learned from my personal experience that what you don’t photocopy today, you might never have another opportunity to do so and it is thus worth laying out more money to do a greater number of photocopies.”
He went to Poland in September 2005. 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. There was also the Polish Telephone Directory of 1932/33 and he had a photocopy made of the page which included Przedecz. There were just 8 telephones there at that period and some of these were for public institutions.
In Przedecz, he found great difficulty in gaining access to the records in the Town Hall and they would not even let him read through them. However after much effort he was able to receive photocopies of the records appertaining to his family. He was very upset about their attitude and wrote to me, “It [these record books] is such a meaningless thing to them, but SO valuable to me and you and people with relatives in Przedecz.” (I should mention that in contrast, Noach Hall had found them very helpful indeed. It obviously depends with which clerk one is dealing with!)
From November 2005, I was also in contact with Gary, who was even a closer relative of mine than Ken. Gary said that he had the money for the research but not the time and I told him that with me it was the opposite. We therefore made a “partnership” - I would do the work and he would finance it, and we straight away exchanged information on our family trees. Soon after, at his request, I sent him some photographs by e-mail of me and members of my family.
Also at that period, using mainly the Internet, I made a search of the sources of Jewish genealogical information appertaining to Przedecz. In addition to the sources stated above, I also found that there were some death records of the 1870s and 1880s at the Poznan archives and records of permanent residents of Przedecz (both Jews and non-Jews) from 1885 to 1930 at a branch of the Torun Archives situated at Wloclawek. At first I wrote a general letter in English to the Torun Archives to which I eventually received a reply in Polish. I then wrote with the help of a friend of mine who lives in Kiryat Arba and was born in Poland, Mordechai Reback, a more specific letter in Polish. In their reply, they wrote that one cannot order photocopies of masses of material but one must state exactly which pages one wants to photocopy. However as I shall now explain there will very soon hopefully be a simpler and more effective method to obtain the information I require.
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.
At first I had understood that the Polish authorities had allowed this organization to microfilm these local residents records from Przedecz and that this indexing would be done in America. I therefore wrote to Ken, who passed my message on to Stanley, volunteering my services to help but to do this I would naturally have to receive photocopies of the records. But Stanley informed me that this was not the case. They could not make the microfilms. They were therefore employing Polish staff (which was much cheaper than sending over American research workers) to do the work.
With regards to the Poznan records, I searched on the Internet for the names of the members of the Zielinski family which appeared on them - a total of 7 death records - and passed the information on to Gary, who then ordered photocopies.
About that period I informed Ken of a further source to reconstruct the genealogy in Przedecz. This was the Yad Vashem lists of those who had perished in the Holocaust. There, there were several hundred names connected with Przedecz. Ken however felt that although it was a “valuable resource” it was limited since “so many of the Jews in this district were murdered without leaving any survivors at all.”
My “partnership” with Gary was put into actual practice by my asking Ken how much would be the photocopying overheads to copy the records he had obtained from the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. I informed Gary of the answer and he arranged for Ken to be sent a dollar cheque. Meanwhile Ken made two photocopies of this material which he then sent to Gary and to me. From these records I could see that only a fraction of the Jews in Przedecz paid these Jewish communal dues. However these lists did give me the names of many of the Jewish families in Przedecz during the 1920s and 1930s.
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 Cmielewski 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 sent the information to me by e-mail 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.
Just before Pesach 2006, Gary completed the first draft of a genealogical paper of the descendants of my great grandfather Azriel Zelinsky and his brother Shiar. At that time, we did not know the name of Azriel and Shiar’s father and it thus appeared in this tree as “[Male] Zielinski”. His paper comprises the material I had researched on the descendants of Azriel, and the material he had researched on the descendants of Shiar (his branch of the family). It also included many photographs in both of our possessions.
Immediately after Pesach I carefully went over his paper, writing in a number of corrections, some serious and others less serious. In a long telephone conversation between us, I pointed out these corrections to him. We also discussed how to obtain further material from Poland and I then sent off several e-mails to obtain this objective.
Following this, Gary, after much effort, succeeded in the summer of 2006 in locating, the tombstone in Edmonton cemetery of Shiar Zelinsky. At first the cemetery staff were unable to locate it, thus leading us to believe that he may have been buried elsewhere. I myself felt sure that the high likelihood was that he was buried in Edmonton. Further research indeed located his grave in Edmonton and Gary then went there to photograph the tombstone. It had in fact toppled over. He managed to raise it and photograph it and he sent me by e-mail several photographs of it. The crucial information we wanted was the name of Shiar’s father, and this we saw to be Avraham Yehudah, (Yehudah being spelled with an “aleph” at the end).
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.