Almost no oaks in my forest  

Posted by Abba-Dad in , , , , , , ,

My maternal grandfather was Michael (Misha) Dombek (Domb is an oak tree in Polish). As far as I know, he is the only surviving Jewish Dombek from his family to have made it through the holocaust (There are other Dombek families, but so far I have not been able to find any that are Jewish). When WW2 started he left Warsaw and his disapproving family behind and fled to Russia, where he later met my grandmother. When he returned after the war, there was nobody left alive.

I will have many more posts about my grandfather, as he was one of my role models growing up and one of my favorite people in this world. But for the sake of this post I will focus on one single story. It's a sad story about the complete annihilation of his family in the holocaust and how a misunderstanding and a case of mistaken identity changed the future for many people.

Misha lived with his family in Warsaw in a big apartment at 16 Woloska Street. He was one of 9 children in the family and was about 19 years old when the war started. he felt that things were not going to end well and decided to leave. He tried to convince his father and the rest of the family to leave with him, but they wouldn't listen to his warnings. And so he set out on his own to the Russian border.

He moved around a lot in Russia during the war, joined and left the Red Army (twice) and eventually met my grandmother in Central Asia (near Tashkent, Uzbekistan). After they married in 1945, he made an unsuccessful attempt to find his family in Warsaw. A couple of years later they moved back to Poland, in 1947. At this point, he tried to go back to his family's apartment. Surprisingly, the building was still standing and the old Polish woman who worked there recognized him. She told him that one of his sisters, Tema, had come back after the war and sold the family apartment. Apparently Tema and another sister had survived, according to the old woman, and had moved to Israel.

Misha was encouraged by this new development and had tried to contact his sisters in Israel for several years without success. Eventually Misha and his new family (wife and two children) immigrated to Israel around 1957. One of the reasons was the chance that his sisters could be contacted somehow. At that time there was a radio show on Friday afternoons that tried to reconnect lost family members. Misha was reluctant, but his wife Riva decided to put his name on the show and they were soon contacted by Mrs. Rivka Geiger (Kramarz).

Rivka and her sister, Tema Fruchter (Kramarz), were the only two known survivors. When they finally met, Rivka took Misha to see her sister and that's when things got a little strange. Apparently Tema and her husband were acting in a weird way, avoiding eye-contact and being very distant. After the visit with his two cousins, Misha figured out what must have happened. It seemed that Tema came back to the family apartment in Warsaw, pretended to be Misha's sister (also called Tema) and sold it. Misha later confronted her with this conclusion and she admitted to it and apologized. Her reasoning was that since it seemed like everyone had perished in the holocaust, there was no reason to just let the apartment go to waste. It took some time but eventually all was forgiven.

So the case of the cousin who "stole" the apartment had led to several life changing events. Had she not sold the apartment, Misha would have had no idea that they were alive and living in Israel. Without the (false) hope of seeing his sisters he would not have moved his family to Israel. My parents would have never met and I would not be here to tell the story. I am constantly amazed at how little incidents in our past make a huge impact on our future (or present).

Rivka Geiger has been one of my biggest sources of information about my grandfather's family. She filled out dozens of 'Pages of Testimony' for Yad Vashem about her relatives who had perished in the holocaust. From reading these handwritten documents I have been able to piece together a family tree dating back to the mid 1850's in Poland. Below is a tree of descendants of my 2nd great grandparents:

I marked the only survivors in red, all who perished in black and myself in blue (bottom left). It is astounding how entire families were massacred and wiped from existence. This is just an example of only one branch in the tree. I have similar diagrams for the Kreplak family (my great-grandmother's side, of which a couple of second cousins were later located in Paris) and the Smorgonski family (my paternal grandmother, who were murdered in Dolhinov, Poland). And these were only the adults. Many of these families had children that aren't listed in the 'Pages of Testimony'. All gone.

I will slowly continue to add details and proper citations from this resource. I am currently at around 100 people combining both sides of my Polish ancestry. My next big leap would be to try to find out if there were any family members higher up in the tree that left Europe before the war or survived the holocaust in some other way. The problem there is that both my great grandfather and his father were only sons in families with many sisters. Another problem is getting through to the correct information for 19th century Polish Jews. This is one of the top goals of my research.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 8:43 PM and is filed under , , , , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


Thank you for sharing your story and posting the descendants chart. Sometimes pictures convey meaning better than words.

Good luck in your search -- Randy

August 17, 2008 at 4:22 PM

What an impact your chart makes --- your words and your graphic clearly demonstrates the horror of that time while, at the same time, shows hope of survival. I'm so glad you are keeping the memory of your family alive through your writing.

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi

August 18, 2008 at 7:32 AM

This was a very touching post. I too am amazed at how decisions big and small have changed the course of people's lives.

I look forward to more stories about your maternal grandfather, and wish you good luck in your search.

August 24, 2008 at 7:22 PM

Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I have a lot more stories to tell about my ancestors.

August 24, 2008 at 9:10 PM



September 1, 2008 at 8:54 AM

Hi there... my mom was a Dombek fron Bedzin who was also to Tashkent. Please let me know if any of this relates to your Dombeks. (also, my mother said that her family came to Poland more than 600 years ago when it was a refuge... but there was a lot of assimilation and a lot of intermarriage... hence many non-jewish Dombeks). Please feel free to email me at

November 25, 2008 at 2:03 PM

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