It borders on the scandalous that I haven’t written a blog post since announcing the publication of The Lost Torah of Shanghai. In today’s world I should be banned from calling myself any kind of an author. It’s not for lack of anything to say. Never my problem.

The past few months have been…well, busy. We moved from San Francisco back to, part-time and possibly temporarily, our hometown of Milwaukee. The move was quick, as real estate transactions in the Bay Area don’t give the seller, in August, the luxury of giving occupancy in December. Which would have been the next most convenient time, given the travel plans we knew were ahead. In fact, even when we learned the contract was confirmed, Eli and I were in Poland. We arrived home September 4 and moved out September 21. Between HIPPY travel in my last two months as HIPPY USA national chair and a long-planned weekend in Chicago, I was away from our rented home in Milwaukee 14 nights out of the first month, and then we left for a month in Israel, returning to the US in time for Thanksgiving.

There is some irony in the pattern of these wanderings. In Poland I found myself in the native land of my maternal grandfather, Alfred (born Abraham) Zuckert (born either Cukier or Cukiert, transliterated from the Polish, and Sukert in Glasgow, Scotland, where he stayed for a few years and where a brother, David, settled and raised his family). While I know something about his family history, including about several siblings, there is a huge blank: the fate of his three sisters who presumably perished with their children and grandchildren in the Holocaust. I spent some time one afternoon at the The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute Jewish Genealogy & Family Heritage Center in Warsaw. The researcher with whom I worked, in an orderly way, led me to various types of databases to gain clues about each family member I knew about. Since then, another resource has given me the first names of my great-grandparents, as well as the birth information about one of the sisters, Laja, for whom I think I’m named.

Back to Milwaukee. Home to both Eli and me, and originally our grandparents who had come from Poland, Russia, and Galicia (which was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when my paternal grandfather, Henry Grossman, left before World War I. Both grandfathers left home as teen-agers, on their own with the encouragement of their parents, to make their way and start families in a totally new place. How each of them got to Milwaukee I’m not exactly sure. Unfortunately, both died before I realized how important it would be to ask. 

And now to Israel for the past month. A homeland my parents, grandparents, and their relatives in the “old country” all longed for, but so many didn’t live to see. But a chance to spend time with cousins on both the Zuckert and Igra sides of my family. And to learn more about a family story that will be the next book, likely a third Lily Kovner book. It involves a cousin re-discovered many years after she was left for safekeeping with a Catholic family during World War II.

In general, the re-discovery of Jewish roots by many Poles is common, especially in Krakow and Warsaw. Thanks to the efforts of American Jewish institutions in engaging them, there’s a rebirth, of sorts, of Jewish cultural and religious life in Poland. The Jewish Quarter of Krakow is interesting for its history, but  we found the tourism aspect sometimes a little cringe-worthy. Like the stand selling figurines, in the Main Square of Krakow, that included a Hassidic man holding a bag marked with a $, alongside some Klezmer players. Looks like the vendor only got part of the message about Jews.

This travel could be called “roots” exploration. It’s led me to a country, its long history of Jewish life notwithstanding (as depicted in the year-old POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews), that birthed and bred–and persecuted and killed–generations of Jews.

I wonder what the grandparents, who couldn’t wait to leave Poland and Russia and other countries where prejudice and pogroms exceeded promise and prospects, would think about such travel. And I think about Holocaust survivors who have traveled back. And those who wouldn’t dream of it.

Home? Heart? No easy answers.

My great-uncle, David Sukiert (as spelled in Scotland, where he immigrated) apparently on a visit back to Poland with his mother and the three sisters presumed lost in the Holocaust.

My great-uncle, David Sukiert (as spelled in Scotland, where he immigrated) apparently on a visit back to Poland with his mother and the three sisters presumed lost in the Holocaust.







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