Monday, June 26, 2006

The Holocaust and me

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum has identified and recorded the names of 3-million of the 6-million Jews killed by Germany and its collaborators in Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania more than a half-century ago.

The museum's web site on the Internet contains a hyperlink enabling a person to enter a family name to learn whether he or she can identify members of one's own family as a Holocaust victim.

I typed in the name Rajczyk, which I learned only in recent years is the Polish spelling of my family name, Reichek. The Anglicized spelling of the name was decided by U.S. immigration officials when my paternal grandfather, who did not know the Latin alphabet, arrived in this country at the turn of the last century.

I learned about the Polish spelling from a newly discovered second cousin, a Holocaust survivor and the grand-daughter of my grandfather's brother. Her maiden name was Golda Rajczyk. Her grandfather had remained in Poland after my grandfather's departure.

I was stunned to discover 139 people named Rajczyk on the Yad Vashem web site who are known to have perished in the Holocaust. All had lived in the region of Poland northeast of Warsaw where my father was born. I was familiar only with the name of Itzl Rajczyk, my father's first cousin. He had lived briefly in the U.S. with my grandparents shortly before World War I. Despite my grandfather's plea for him to remain in this country, he returned to Poland. He was Golda's father.

I was shocked to discover so many Holocaust victims bearing my family name. The name is uncommon, suggesting that most if not all the murdered Rajczyks listed were, if not direct relatives, members of a larger family clan.

After the decades of reading about the Holocaust and hearing details about the killing of 6-million Jews, I now have a more personal and direct connection to the genocide. Unlike other historic mass killings by one people of another ethnic group--the Turkish slaughter of Armenians, for example--the Holocaust was a structured and industrialized campaign to murder every Jew the Nazi Germans and their collaborators could put their hands on.

The aim was to exterminate an entire people. If my two sets of grandparents had not been wise or lucky enough to leave Poland and Belarus, I might have been one of the names on the Yad Vashem list.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are very brave to look it up---can not do it.

Monday, June 26, 2006 5:30:00 PM  
Blogger Observer said...

Yes,I have an axe to grind.
Slovakia should be added to your list of collaborationist countries.
In March 1939, that is before the start of WW II, Slovakia became an openly Nazi-style country. It started to deport its Jews to the camps in Poland in March 1942.

Monday, June 26, 2006 8:09:00 PM  
Blogger saz said...

Mort - I was very fortunate after taking an early retirement to find a part time job as a receptionist for a "think tank" that draws academics from all over the world who study behavioral science. The place and the study of that science (early 50's) were a response to the holocaust and the hope that they could discover why it happened. They never came to a consensus on the "why" (who could ever explain it) but thankfully the study of mass killings all over the world continue to be examined. I am hopeful these folks continue to keep this subject front and center in universities because we should NEVER forget.

Monday, June 26, 2006 10:46:00 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

God Bless your grandparents who were so far sighted or lucky or both!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Claude said...

I looked up my mother's maiden name. She was from then Poland and now Belarus and had quite an uncommon name, but couldn't find it, although we know from witnesses that her whole family and practically her whole village Jewish population were exterminated.
Not that it would have made me feel better if I had found their name.
Thanks for this Memoir again, Mort.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 3:20:00 AM  
Blogger Mortart said...

In response to the Observer's complaint (see his comment), I have added Slovakia to the list of Nazi German nations who collaborated in the killing of Jews. I am debating the addition of Belarus, my mother's birthplace, where some of its non-Jewish inhabitants were also eager to join the German invaders in murdering their Jewish neighbors.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 11:00:00 AM  
Blogger goldenlucyd said...

Mort,
My folks came to the USA in the mid-nineteenth century. My husband and his family came from Vilnius and Minsk/Pinsk in the first half of the 20th century.

To me, it's all the same. If any one of us had been at the wrong place at the wrong time there would have been any number of non-Jewish folks to aid in our destruction. And it's not different now.

I hate to say this but even today I've experienced really negative responses to being Jewish. Anyone who doubts that hasn't been living in the world of the "average American." Living in a large East Coast city or FL enclave (I've done both for most of my life) doesn't relflect the reality of the larger US culture. It's scary.

I'm a realist and not an alarmist but in the eyes of history, when times get tough Jews are never innocent.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 4:26:00 PM  
Anonymous joared said...

As for the question as to "why" the Holocaust, other mass killings occur, I can't help wondering if we're looking for rational explanations and logic where there is none; only convoluted rationales of madmen which unthinking people blindly followed.

I know that's an over-simplification; that it is scary even today to think that presumably intelligent, family-loving people could have encouraged, or stood by and done nothing to prevent such atrocities.

I wish I had the power to say to Lucy that such could and will never happen again. I do have the power to be constantly vigilant in sounding the alarm for any beginning signs of such perverted thinking in my community.

As I have described in earlier comments (on other blogs as best I recall) our community was put to just such a test over a two or three year period some years ago. I am proud to say the vast majority of our residents were not deluded by the wolves in sheeps clothing and their ultimate agenda.

I continue to believe our community is not unique in that regard; that there are enough others like us across this country that will do the same. That said, each of us must always be prepared to back our beliefs with action; to always remember what can happen if we do nothing.

I probably should identify myself by saying that I lost no relatives, personal friends or acquaintances in any of these mass killings, nor am I a part of any ethnic group that has been singled out as victims ... SO FAR.

If the humanity in others does not prevail, they should at least consider, somebody, somewhere, sometime might decide their group was expendable.

Friday, June 30, 2006 10:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Terri said...

A wonderful and thought-provoking post.
Although we're not Jewish, my grandmother came to the States from Poland in 1908 from a small village north of Warsaw. Silly as it sounds, I've often wondered if way back we were indeed Jewish and for survival reasons, the religion got changed to Catholic. I have such empathy for the Holocaust and anything related to it.
One of the most poignant places I ever visited was the Anne Frank House. And one of the posters here was so right....there was no logic to any of the horror that took place.
I've always fully believed that saying about if we don't remember history....then we're doomed to repeat it.

Friday, July 07, 2006 5:18:00 PM  
Anonymous jane said...

I cannot imagine the connection you must have felt with your ancestors. I know when I visited Ellis Island & found my Grandma's information, I was literally stunned. To find 139 realtives that perished during the Holocaust must have been even more moving for you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006 6:55:00 PM  
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006 10:30:00 PM  

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