This is the story of seven women, all relatives of mine, who survived the German invasion of Belgium together through a crazy trip starting in Antwerp, passing through France, Morocco, Portugal, and ending in New York. I’ve written in the past about my grandfather (When my grandfather traveled to Nazi Germany to save his family) and his time before making it the US during WWII. I’ve always wanted to write about my grandmother’s journey, but lacked the documentation to visually tell the story. I now think I have enough to tell the story properly (if not completely).
My grandparents and their families knew each other in Poland, and then in Belgium, but my grandparents didn’t marry until 1943, when both had made it to New York. While their families followed similar paths for many years, at least one portion of their stories took a very different turn.
My grandmother was born Lipka Kleinhaus in 1922 in Rzeszów, Poland. She was the youngest of six children, her oldest sister nineteen years her senior. Her closest sibling in age, her brother Nusen, was ten years older than her. Like my grandfather’s family, her family found their way to Antwerp, Belgium in the 1920s. Once there, they entered the diamond business following a relative who had arrived earlier.
Some documentation of the family’s stay in Belgium can be found in the files of the Belgian Police des Étrangers which I’ve lectured on in the past. If you had family that lived in Belgium, see my Belgium page on where records can be found. The photo below, for example, came from one of the Police des Étrangers files.
When I was younger, I remember hearing the phrase ‘Poland is one big Jewish cemetery’. This was a way of relating the fact that 90% of Polish Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Usually it was stated by someone who was explaining why they would never visit Poland. Of course, when I was younger it was quite difficult to visit Poland, being that it was behind the Iron Curtain. I first visited Poland, less than two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, as part of the March of the Living in 1993. We visited a couple of cemeteries during that trip, including the Okopowa St. synagogue in Warsaw. The Okopowa St. cemetery has more than 80,000 gravestones still in existence, and has had money contributed to it from the local government to help preserve it. One wonders if the interest in preserving this particular cemetery is due to an interest in preserving the past, or perhaps an interest in encouraging more Jewish tourism. The lack of funds for other cemeteries in the country would tend to support the tourism theory.
I recently posted about the name changes published by the British Mandate of Palestine government during the years of British rule (1919-1948). One of the most interesting aspects of those name changes is that the English should reflect the official names people used when they moved to pre-state Israel (presumably verified by the government authorities), and that they were published simultaneously in English and Hebrew.
I’ve taken a selection of the many lists, and matched the unique name pairs (Hebrew and English) and put together a table with over a thousand name pairs. You can view the table below. The table starts sorted alphabetically in English, but you can sort it by Hebrew if you prefer. You can also search, and see which names match your search. If you don’t know Hebrew, you can search for one name in English, then copy the Hebrew name and paste it into the search field to see all the other English names that match the Hebrew. In general Hebrew names are more likely to have multiple English names associated with them. This is partly because there are few variant spellings in Hebrew (although there are Yiddish variants that pop up), but it is also due to how I assembled the list.
Here’s an example of searching for the Hebrew name יעקב (Jacob):
I’ve been doing some research into name changes, and wanted to share some of the process of name changes that occurred in British Mandate Palestine (pre-state Israel, from 1919 to 1948).
If you’re interested in searching these name changes, note that these are all searchable online at the Israel Genealogy Research Association web site. Search results include the image of the English version of the name change publication, which I’ll explain below.
Name changes during the mandate were published regularly in the official government paper, called, in English, the Palestine Gazette. The paper was also published in Hebrew (as העתון הרשמי) and Arabic. While looking through files in the Israel State Archives, I came across a folder that contained many of the name change lists from 1941-1946. In the folder, you can see the original lists that were submitted for publication. This usually included the original request letter, a list of the name changes in English, and another list in Hebrew and Arabic as appropriate. Sometimes corrections were also made. Let’s go through an example.
Here is the letter submitting a list of name changes on May 11, 1942:
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