Chipping away at the unknown

For those of us whose families came to the States in the years before WWI, we tend to know in an abstract way that we must have had family that perished in the Shoah. The first World War, the difficulty communicating with far away relatives, the economic demands of  establishing yourself in this country and the usual family squabbles meant that many families lost track of one another between the earliest years of the 20th century and the start of the Shoah.

My in-laws were keepers of things. If you were feeling less generous towards them you would say that they were pack-rats. They had a fabulous stash of old photos and letters all kept helter skelter in candy boxes in stationery boxes, cake tins or just in stacks in various places in their little house in Queens. Among the old ephemera were photos and letters written to my mother-in-law's mother from her relatives in Poland. We knew that there were letters and postcards that talked of the increasingly difficult times. They had at least one postcard written from the Warsaw ghetto. It was written in Polish. My father in law has wrapped that postcard up in plastic wrap and then put it in a plastic sleeve. Occasionally my in-laws would pull out the postcard look at it and get really sad.

After in in-laws died we inherited the ephemera. Among the things in the stash was this photo of these two sweet boys.
This is what was written on the back of the photo.
While we could pick out the names, Chaim Shimon and David and Rajzman, we don't read Polish  so the rest of it was a cipher.

We have become friends with a Polish cantorial student. We asked her to translate the back of the photo. She wrote the following:
A direct translation - the Polish is with very charming grammar and spelling mistakes:-)

"As a souvenir. We are presenting to our beloved honest Aunt our likeness.
From me. Chaim Szime and Davit [:-)] Rajzman

Warsaw, 14 January [of the] God's Year (Anno Domini in Polish? But the Christian expression in Polish would be r.p. - of the Lord's year, not r.b. God's Year, I think) .24 

So now we knew that Chaim Szime and David were my mother in law's first cousins. Given that our friend Anna had done such a good job with the photos we sent her these images of the post card.

Clearly the card had been handled a whole lot, the edges had worn away. 

We could see the names of the two boys in the photo . Anna said that she wanted to see the card in person, it was hard to decipher.

The greeting itself is a bit unclear. The card is written from the Warsaw ghetto. Anna told us that the return address is from a street in central Warsaw that was in a nice part of town.She also said that the message made many references to the health of both the family in Warsaw as well as to packages being delivered and not delivered and begs for a reply. Anna felt that the text of the card was deliberately cryptic, perhaps it was some sort of  coded language that would have been understood by my husband's grandmother, the recipient of the card.

The card was signed M. Rajzman. We assumed that M.Rajzman was the parent of the boys in the photo.

Luckily we live in the age of the internet.

I looked up Rajzman on the Yad V'Shem database. I quickly found David Rajzman who died in the Warsaw ghetto. I found his name on a list of the slain ghetto fighters. It is on a memorial outside of the ghetto. David Rajzman was born in 1915. he would have been just the right age to be able to fight.

We found that his older brother Chaim Szymon had moved to Lublin and had gotten married to a woman named Neysa. His name appears both on a work list in the Lublin ghetto and on a deportation list.

Looking further we learned that M.Rajzman was Mordecai,  my mother in law's uncle. Mordecai was married to Pesya. All of them were killed. Mordecai Rajzman and his sons were all shopowners, not peddlers but several steps up from that.

I have been thinking about what it must have been like for Tili Rajzman Green to receive these cards. She lived in poverty. My mother in law lived in cold water flats in Brooklyn until she got married. Tili Rajsman's Green's English was minimal at best. She knew her family was in trouble but she didn't have the resourses to help them.

Of course I wish that my husband's relatives could have had those many lucky rolls of the dice  that allowed other Jews to survive, the well timed affidavit, the kind Nazi officer who turned away at a critical moment, a random decision to go the the American consulate today rather than waiting for your appointment two days from now, a warning from a stranger at a train station, an abandoned apple on the side of the road....We do now have names and faces for a small piece of our family.

לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו אלהים
ונתנו לו אביו ואמו
Everyone has a name
that God gives
and one’s father and mother give.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו קומתו ואופן חיוכו
ונתן לו האריג
Everyone has a name
that stature and the curve of one’s smile give
and the weave of one’s clothing gives.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו ההרים
ונתנו לו כתליו
Everyone has a name
that the mountains give
and the walls of one’s city give.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו המזלות
ונתנו לו שכניו
Everyone has a name
that the stars give
and one’s neighbors give.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חטאיו
ונתנה לו כמיהתו
Everyone has a name
that one’s offenses give
and one’s longing gives.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו שונאיו
ונתנה לו אהבתו
Everyone has a name
that enemies give
and love for others gives.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו חגיו
ונתנה לו מלאכתו
Everyone has a name
birthday celebrations give
and one’s work gives.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתנו לו תקופות השנה
ונתן לו עיורונו
Everyone has a name
that the seasons of the year give
and our blindness gives.
לכל איש יש שם
שנתן לו הים
ונתן לו
Everyone has a name
that the sea gives
one’s death gives.

יהי זכרם ברוך


  1. Oh Sarah,
    Even finding now, that someone who was your family went through a tragic time and didn't make it out the other end, is still full of grief. But I am glad it is no longer a mystery for you.
    I love the poem/writing it is something to print out and think about deeply.

  2. I neglected to credit the poet, it is Zelda


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