Every so often we need to be reminded that technological advances have made this world a much smaller place, says Marlene Katz Bishow of Rockville, Maryland.
For nearly 50 years, she’s been researching her Deutscher and Katz families from Galicia – then in Austro-Hungary, later Poland, today Ukraine – a passion that began when she traced eye color in her family for a long-ago school assignment.
In New York, Marlene’s paternal grandmother Gussie (Golda) Deutscher Katz talked about her parents’ eye color, adding details about her family and childhood in Rozniatow. In 1913, after her father died, she came to America with her mother and five siblings, eventually marrying first cousin Samuel (Shimon) Katz.
Marlene filled index cards with family facts, and played a game with her grandmother, shuffling the cards to see if the schoolgirl could remember who was who.
In December 2000, Marlene entered her families and towns in the JewishGen Family Finder (JGFF).
She received messages from other researchers, but with no apparent connections.
By early June 2005, after nearly five decades, Marlene still had only 230 family members dating to 1835, a relatively small number – but no significant records from Rozniatow and Zhuravno had survived the war.
One June morning in 2005, Marlene sat down to read e-mail; one was headed, “Deutscher – Uruguay.” A click revealed that Jacqueline Mohnblatt Deutscher of Montevideo had found Marlene’s name in the JGFF. As a teen, she had become interested in genealogy and in finding “lost” family members because of her grandparents’ stories about efforts to discover their relatives’ wartime fate.
Jacqueline had been searching genealogy sites for years, and when she discovered JewishGen
(www.jewishgen.org), she immediately looked up the family names, finding Mohnblatt and Birenholz, but was skeptical about the more common Deutscher.
Jacqueline’s great-grandfather, Abraham Deutscher, had left Rozniatow around 1903 with his wife and young family, but – unlike Marlene’s family – they traveled north, settling in Duisburg, Germany.
Importantly, Jacqueline’s family was from the same shtetl where Marlene’s grandmother had been born. The two women compared their ancestors’ names: Jacqueline’s uncle was Sheah (from Yeshaya), the Hebrew name of Marlene’s father, named in Ashkenazi tradition, after his paternal ancestor, Sheah Mendel Rosdeutscher Deutscher.
Family escaped Europe on a boat to Brazil
Jacqueline remembered that Abraham’s mother – her great-great-grandmother – Sheindel. Marlene had Sheindel on her tree as her great-grandfather Chaim’s sister, related by her grandmother Gussie so long ago.
Marlene realized that Jacqueline was her third cousin once removed, and due to some cousin marriage, also her fourth cousin.
In 1934, Jacqueline’s grandfather Bernard, the youngest son, came alone to Palestine and stayed for a year building roads. He couldn’t get legal papers for his family, so he returned to Germany. In 1935, the family escaped Europe on a boat to Brazil, followed later by brother Sigmund (Salman) and his family, while eldest brother Nathan and his family went to Uruguay.
Their father Abraham, deported in 1942, died in Therezinstadt; his wife Johanna (Yente) Haftel Deutscher died in Duisberg in 1937. A daughter, Charlotte, her husband and two sons also perished.
Bernard’s daughter Evy was age 2 when she left Germany. She grew up in Montevideo, married and her children Jacquelyn and Denis attended the American School. In the 1980s, Jacqueline lived in Israel and California, but returned to Uruguay.
“Even though I had been researching online for years and the JGFF was a natural resource, if I hadn’t pestered grandparents, cousins, great-aunts and accumulated information, I could never have pieced together the fragments,” Marlene says. “With so many records destroyed, how could we have known that Sheindel and Chaim were siblings?”
“When I found Marlene and confirmed the relationship, I was overjoyed,” says Jacqueline. Good friends now, they communicate regularly in chat and email, swap photographs, share stories about parents, spouses and children and discuss their common interest in genealogy. Jacqueline, fluent in Spanish, English, German and Hebrew, translates documents they find, while Marlene has restored old photos for her.
'Finding Itzik and his family was thrilling'
More remarkably, just a few weeks after Jacqueline’s contact, Marlene received an e-mail from Itsik Argaman, an Israeli living in the Netherlands, who had independently discovered Marlene’s JGFF entry.
Itsik’s great-grandfather Jacob, who used the name Rosdeutscher, was the brother of Marlene’s great-grandfather Chaim and Jacqueline’s great-great-grandmother Sheindel.
Itsik’s mother, grandmother and three sisters live today in Israel. His mother arrived from Poland with Aliyot Hanoar at age 12 in November 1948, followed in December by her parents (her father had survived Auschwitz), on the ship Negba to Netanya, and the family was reunited.
Marlene wrote separately to Jacqueline and Itsik, and then put them in touch with each other. Itsik called Jacqueline and they communicate via email and phone. Finding Itzik and his family was thrilling, says Jacqueline, because his branch went its separate way in the first generation.
AS a young boy in Israel, Itsik, 45, couldn’t break the silence of his mother and grandparents. “I wasn’t really interested then, but now I’ve been researching my roots for about 10 years.”
In May 1995, he recorded a one-hour interview with his grandmother; “in bad Hebrew, she tries to tell her story.” In 1999, he visited Auschwitz, where his grandfather had spent three years. He wanted to search his grandparents’ families. From the interview, his Auschwitz visit and Internet research, he began to piece together the story.
“I wanted to understand why they kept their mouths closed all those years; why and how they lived in Poland, survived the Holocaust. I wanted to do this for my mother who never dared ask her parents, internalizing sorrow and pain; for my three sisters and for my own children. I wanted to understand how it happened that those people became, with all their sorrows, the greatest grandparents ever.”
Eventually, he learned about JewishGen’s Family Finder, and found Marlene and Jacqueline.
His grandmother and sisters don’t know he’s searching. “Only my mother knows. She was surprised and curious. And, although a closed person, I hear in her voice that she is happy.”
'I hope that someday we’ll all meet'
Recently, Jacqueline told Marlene about another cousin, Jose Arnaldo Deutscher (Sigmund/Salman’s son), born and raised in Rio de Janeiro. Just before Rosh Hashana, Jacqueline contacted him and, in October, Arnaldo sent Marlene information on his sister in Sderot and another cousin, Juanita Deutscher, adding that his father was president of KKL Brasil and co-founder of a Hebrew school in Rio.
“I was very surprised to receive all the information about our ancestors,” says Arnaldo, who doesn’t have any of his family’s photos or records. His now-deceased older sister had them after their parents’ death; today they are “lost.”
More than a century ago, Sheah Mendel Rosdeutscher Deutscher lived in a small Galician shtetl. Today his descendants (including Marlene, Jacqueline, Arnaldo and Itsik) live in America, Israel, the Netherlands, Uruguay and Brazil.
“The stories of their dispersion around the world have puzzled, excited and delighted me, but never did I anticipate these latest occurrences,” says Marlene. “If anyone had told me that, with my deep Ashkenazi roots, I would have a Jose and a Juanita on my family tree, I would have dismissed it as a joke.”
“Although we live many miles apart and speak different languages, we can e-mail and call each other,” she adds. “I hope that someday we’ll all meet, perhaps in Israel. That would be wonderful.”
“No one in my family is as excited as me, but they’re happy. When I put the family history into a book, I know they’ll all read it. There are no tzadiks or rabbis in our family – just a lot of good, loving and hard-working people.”
In an effort to bring more people into the circle, Jacqueline wrote to other relatives in Uruguay, Brazil and Israel. “Those who answered were happy and excited to hear from me, to get involved in the research, to renew the connection and meet new family members. It’s amazing how the family has spread out, but such is the fate of the Jewish people. The challenge is to get the younger generations involved and to have them keep the connections alive.”
Itsik wants to finish writing the family story. “I’m not writing a book or a novel, just trying to fill some 15 pages of my grandparents’ lives, from my grandmother’s birth, her marriage, her husband and daughter; survival and the difficulties adjusting to life in Israel.”
When he realized that Marlene, Jacqueline and Arnaldo were all related to him, he experienced mixed emotions.
His grandfather had told him that there weren’t any Rosdeutschers left in the world, so Itsik was delighted to learn that so many were alive in different places, but he was also distressed. “My grandfather died not knowing he was wrong … and that the Rosdeutschers won the war. I believe that Sheah Mendl is smiling now in his grave, knowing that his descendants are now living around the world, and he deserves to smile.”
The next mystery to be tackled concerns Isaac Deutscher, poet and author of many Marxist and Socialist works, including voluminous Lenin and Trotsky biographies. Both Jacqueline and Marlene were told he was related; Jacqueline’s grandfather was in touch with him until Isaac’s 1968 death, but details remain elusive.
Through JewishGen’s remarkable resources, long-lost branches have been connected again after more than 100 years. Have you added your names to the JewishGen Family Finder? Someone may be looking for you right now.