Posted by Abba-Dad in

JewishGen is the premier online resource for Jewish Genealogy and probably should be the first destination for any researcher with Jewish roots. The site is completely free and hosts hundreds and thousands of smaller sites dedicated to special interest groups (SIGs), Jewish community sites (shtetls), expansive databases and search engines, online courses, discussion forums and much, much more.

Recently through a partnership with all their data was moved to the data center and integrated with the search engines. This has made searching a lot faster and easier. I still like using the interface as it seems to show more details and maybe I am just used to it.

Anyway, the site, being a non-profit organization, survives on charitable donations. Any amount is welcome but gifts of $100 or more will grant you access to enhanced database search capabilities, enrollment in our online genealogy course and other extra features. Tax deductible in the US.

I made my $100 contribution today and you should too. Click this link and either donate to the general fund or a specific project.

I am looking forward to seeing some more targeted query results. I am sure I will uncover things I missed before. I will post my findings here, of course.

"The Lost" - Book Review  

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I finally finished reading "The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million" by Daniel Mendelsohn about a week ago. I've been kind of busy since then, so I haven't been able to post my thoughts about it yet. I have to say right away that it was a little hard getting started with the book. Mendelsohn has a very unique writing style and has taken the art of using commas to the extreme. Some of the sentences are so long that by the time you're done reading them, you may not remember where you started. But this is not a literary style review so I'll just leave it at that.

The other point I need to make is that the author goes through the first few stories in the bible and draws comparisons and contrasts from them to his stories about total annihilation, siblings rivalry and so on. He also analyzes the works of two famous biblical scholars and comes to his own conclusions. I found this part pretty annoying since, by his own admission, he has not studied the bible past these first few stories and I wasn't always sure I understand the repetitive nature of his analysis.

Speaking of repetition, there's a lot of that in the 500+ pages of this book. I could have done with less, but I guess it's one way of getting the reader to remember the characters and events.

All right, let's get to the actual story and why I found it so appealing. The book is focused on the authors quest to find information about his grand-uncle and his family who lived in Bolechow, Poland before the holocaust. He does this by detailing his early childhood memories and then his recent travels around the world to interview the few living Bolechowers who may or may not have known Uncle Shmiel Jager, his wife and 4 daughters.

Through this journey he goes into a lot of detail (some of it shockingly gory) of the fate of the Jewish community in Bolechow. I've heard similar stories before during history lessons in high-school and through reading holocaust survivor testimonies and interviews. Still, reading it again and getting the vivid descriptions made me think about a lot of things and try to draw similarities/contrasts to my own family's history:

  1. For instance, whereas almost all of the author's family had immigrated to the US prior to the war and only one brother stayed behind with his family, my maternal grandfather was the sole survivor from his family.
  2. Where Bolechow is a small village with several living survivors, my grandfather's family lived in Warsaw, the largest Jewish community in Poland and finding information about them is going to be next to impossible.
  3. Mendelsohn started his research about 20 years ago and I am just getting started now.
  4. The author's grandfather was a great story-teller and while he hid most of the family history from his grandson, at least he had a basis for his research as well as additional family members who remembered details. My grandfather never spoke about his family or the war. I was probably too young to ask and the holocaust seemed to be a taboo subject that was never really discussed.
Another recurring theme in the book is how lucky the author was in finding the right people at the right time. Several unlikely coincidences turned complete roadblocks into a wealth of information. This is very disheartening to someone like me who not only has no path to start with but nobody to really talk to. My only real link is my elderly grandmother who also claims that my grandfather didn't talk about his family.

The book's ending left me a little disappointed, but I won't spoil it for those who have not read it yet. It's not the research result, but more the methodology and reaction of the author. If you would like, we can discuss it in the comments.

So while reading a holocaust story about a now-not-so-anonymous family wasn't an uplifting endeavor to say the least, it did spark my interest in trying to research my grandfather's family again. I will have to figure out if there are any related Dombek family members who are somehow related. I will try to dig again in the archives for all the awkward spellings of this not-so-common Polish surname that is not necessarily Jewish. I will try to uncover whatever I can, but I won't keep my hopes up just yet.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to re-live what it's like methodically going through a research project that involves a lot of travel and face to face interviews. I have started reading another holocaust memoir called "Defiance: The Bielski Partisans" about the Bielski Brothers that was recently made into a movie with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber. I'll have a review about that when I'm done.

Baby Bella is Here!  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , ,

Bella Brannon Dekel was born on the afternoon of April 7th. I wrote a little bit about her name on my genealogy blog (link here), but we haven't gotten around to posting any pictures yet. So here's a quick photo dump for everyone to enjoy.

Still in the OR, right after the nurses cleaned her up:

In the nursery, getting her first bath:

Kiki has been amazing with Bella and loves to hold her and comfort her:

Since it was Passover, we all got matching seder-plate shirts and a onesie for Bella:

My three girls:

Me and my babies:

Getting ready to go home:

First night at home, girls in matching pajamas:

So as you can understand we've been home for a couple of days and so far I can tell you that this kid is certainly a night owl. She only cries when she is hungry or when she needs her diapers changed, which is pretty much every 15 minutes. She makes the funniest grunts and squeaks when she sleeps and is a very strong baby. She lifts her head up and if she's got her arms or legs bent, good luck trying to stretch them out (for putting on sleeves or diapers). The hospital photographer was shocked when she saw here hold her head up at 3 days.

I can honestly say that I don't remember any of this from when Kiki was born. Which means that no matter what happens, we're all going to be fine in the end, right? Anyway, more pictures later. I am going to try to take a nap.

Two Bellas - 5 Generations Apart  

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Yesterday afternoon we were blessed with another beautiful baby girl. We decided to call her Bella Brannon Dekel which is a great combination of her ancestry and a very cool name. My wife's maiden name is Brannon and that lineage can be traced back 11 generations. The Dekel family name is relatively new and was changed from my father's Kilchevsky (Kielczewski) by his father. But the name Bella is a whole other story.

Bella "Beile" Kreplak was my great-grandmother. I have very little information about her and most of it is from oral interviews and a single page of testimony in the Yad Vashem Database. Here is what I know (treat this is unsourced information, but it's as good as I can get right now):

Bella was born in Warsaw about 1884 to Avram Kreplak and Dobe Jablonka. She was one of 8 children in her family (Moshe, Bella, Yossel, Rivka, Haya, Esther, Meir & Noeh). She married Hanoch Meir "Heynoch" Dombek probably in Warsaw before 1905 (when her first child was born). Heynoch and Beile had 9 children and lived at 16 Woloska Street in Warsaw before the Holocaust. Their children were Moshe Mordechai, Zipora "Feige", Tamar "Tana", Hava, Michael Haim "Misha" (my grandfather), Leah, Arieh "Leib", Haya & Rivka.

Bella, her husband and 8 of 9 children perished in the holocaust (the 9th child was my grandfather who escaped east to Russia). I don't know their exact fate, but from bits and pieces of what I remember hearing, they died of Typhus in the Warsaw Ghetto. I am sure that if I dig in the Polish Archives I will be able to find more information, but that will have to wait for now. It is assumed that Bella died in 1943.

The translated page of testimony about Bella from Yad Vashem reads as follows:

Detail text:
Bela Dombek was born in Warsaw in 1884. Prior to WWII she lived in Warsaw, Poland. During the war she was in Warsaw, Poland. Bela perished in 1943 in Warsaw, Poland. This information is based on a Page of Testimony (displayed on left) submitted on 26-Jun-1955 by Rivka Geiger.

Full Record Details for Dombek Bela

Source Pages of Testimony
Last Name DOMBEK
First Name* BELA
Sex Female
Date of Birth 1884
Name of 1st Child LEIB
Date of Birth of 1st Child 1928
Name of 2nd Child* LEA
Date of Birth of 2nd Child 1926
Name of 3rd Child KHAIA
Date of Birth of 3rd Child 1930
Date of Death 1943
Type of material Page of Testimony
Submitter's Last Name* GEIGER
Submitter's First Name RIVKA
Registration date 26/06/1955

* Indicates an automatic Translation From Hebrew

Detail comments:!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_FL/.cmd/acd/.ar/sa.portlet.VictimDetailsSubmitAction/.c/6_0_9D/.ce/7_0_V9/.p/5_0_P1/.d/2?victim_details_id=1604044&victim_details_name=++Bela&q1=53EyGfyZ998%3D&q2=nCb0IKBT2lJyrAw9hs3KZKtWDxcmsb7P&q3=VlWlwPDAqiE%3D&q4=VlWlwPDAqiE%3D&q5=5%2BnqSfv9YJY%3D&q6=rFcgqeCcjDU%3D&q7=bxVfqQaN%2Ft%2BRpyXBct1qE2j6IQqmeLWD&frm1_npage=4#7_0_V9

Update: My mother read this post and pointed out that the dates above are incorrect. She is completely right about that, because these birth years do not make much sense. But you have to remember a few things about Yad Vashem Pages of Testimony - Most of them were filled out a decade or two after people left Europe and not always by very close relatives. These sources should be treated carefully because they may contain mistakes. For Example, the same submitter filled out a page (actually two) about my own grandfather, who was alive at the time. Still, for anyone researching Jewish Genealogy, the Yad Vashem database is a must. Thanks for the comment Mom!

Had it not been for my genealogy research and newly found obsession with family history we would probably never have come up with the name Bella. I am honored and proud to be able to name my youngest daughter after my great grandmother. Two Bellas - 5 generations apart.