Where to start? Part of the process of waiting for the “processing” of the DNA samples is to not get sucked into buying other products from the same company. “While you wait for the results, buy a membership and fill out your family tree”. Ha! I didn’t need to that because I was already very happy with my family tree program, and I didn’t need to change.
So, I bought a membership, and started a tree in their program. Sheesh! I’m such a sucker these days. In this case it was pretty good, and took me into new areas. I really didn’t begin all over. I went to my wonderful genealogy program and downloaded the entire database, all my individual notes as well. Then I went to the new program and uploaded it. Voila! It worked.
The new membership gave me access to thousands/millions of scanned documents that would verify the data as correct. As I mentioned, sometimes I was a little lax in correctly inputting my sources. I did find that several times I wondered how I knew what I knew, and I didn’t have it recorded. This was great, I spent several days downloading the backup documents to verify the data that I already had.
Researching my wife’s relatives has always been a little more difficult for two reasons. I wasn’t a part of the early family stories, and didn’t have first hand knowledge, and the second reason is that… on one side of her family there wasn’t much information. They didn’t make it out of Europe before WWII.
Sherry did remember her mother’s mother. Bubbi was very important to her and she knew her as an adult. Her grandfather Herschel was also a memory, but less so. Herschel had come to America from Russia in 1913. He had been a tailor supplying uniforms for the Czar’s army, then all the Jewish tailors were fired. Not seeing opportunities improving, he decided to go to America. He would have taken Jenny (Bubbi) with him, but her mother needed her so she stayed in Russia until her mother passed. The village neighbors often told her that Herschel would forget about her. Jenny had club feet, so he was probably going forget her to start a new life. Everyone must have been surprised when he sent for her seven years later. In 1920 Jenny Berkover made the trip to be with her husband in Pittsburgh.
This was the story that I was told. Later, I confirmed that the area had been Russia, but was now Lithuania. I did know that bad things had happened in Lithuania during the first days of the War.
This is where the new genealogy program kicked in. There was a scanned document titled Emergency Passport Application, filled out in Riga, Latvia at the U.S. Consulate. Jenny went there, and gave information, and signed the document. It said that both of them were born in Jurburg, Russia. I already knew that it probably meant Jurburg, Lithuania, so I did some further checking.
Yurburg, Lithuania was a small city, or large shtetl, of about 2,000 Jews, surrounded by 4,000 Lithuanians. It had been that way for at least three or four hundred years. They had shops, schools, a couple of synagogues, and a very rich cultural social life. With some exceptions they had learned to live together in peace. While being controlled by Russia there was a nationalistic Lithuanian movement that reacted to the harsh communist rule. It was thought that the Jews worked too closely with the communists.
Herschel and Jenny missed most of this, they had already left and were starting their family in Pittsburgh. But they both had left relatives behind. Uncles, aunts, cousins and second cousins. I don’t know how many.
I do know that in June 1941 the Germans enter Yurburg. By September all the Jews were murdered, basically in two actions. About half were taken to the local Jewish cemetery, forced to dig a pit, then executed. Then the rest were forced to go to the ghetto in Kaunas, and then taken out to be shot in fort IX nearby. The nationalist Lithuanian party became part of the Nazi terror, and turned on their neighbors now that the Russians had left.
I learned all this because the few individuals that had left Yurburg, had written their memories that was gathered in a book, the Yurburg Yizkor, the Book of Remembrances, (It is available online). Not many actually survived the Germans, but quite a few Jews had moved to safety, and remembered what Yurburg was like.
I bought the paperback version of the book and found at least seven families of Berkovers that were in Yurburg. One of them was certainly Hershel’s. On the same street I found what I believe to be Jenny’s family, although the last name was slightly different.
Finding this book connected Sherry to a horrific time, and in some fashion made a visceral experience for me. This was now my family too! Berkovers and Pazerintskis were lost senselessly, and an entire community disappeared.
Independently I had begun to feel that the knowledge of the Holocaust (Shoah) was slipping. Not only because of the deniers, but because we are human and we don’t remember… particular if it is painful and uncomfortable.
We must find a way to not be crippled by the memory, but still keep it alive. Our family deserves that respect.