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.