I spent a lot of time during covid researching my family history. My Grandpa Sam told me that when he was 13 years old he walked from Radom, Poland to Calais, France, a 913 mile walk. He then took a boat to Liverpool and he did say it was after the First World War. That was the spring and summer of 1919. Hostilities ended November 11, 1918 but the Treaty of Versailles formally ending the war was not signed until June 28, 1919. He made the walk with his older sister Ruella. He said it was a wonderful trip. They slept out every night and there were lots of people moving in all directions that spring and summer. That is all he ever told me.
I have since learned that his older sister Ruella was 15 years old at the time. In July 1920, Ruella and Sam boarded the RMS Caronia, a Cunard ship, that arrived in New York City July 19, 1920. At the time of this trip, my Grandpa Sam was 4 feet 11 inches tall (I imagine he was a poorly nourished boy having lived in Europe through the First World War)). They were heading to Newark NJ to meet their father Isadore who had left Radom, Poland before the outbreak of the First World War and had established a shoe repair store in Newark. I recently learned that my Grandpa Sam had a cousin Izrael, who was one year older. Izrael’s name and address are listed as a relative from the “old country” on the ship’s manifest. Izrael had four brothers and sisters, Nocha, Bradla, Chaja and Sura Bajla. My Grandpa Sam’s five cousins and his Uncle Mortka and Aunt Symla remained in Radom. Uncle Mortka was my great grandfather Isadore’s brother. While Isadore, Sam and Ruella made the decision to leave the comfort of their familiar thriving Jewish community in Radom and headed west to the United States, the cousins and uncle and aunt decided to stay in Radom. 19 years later, on September 8, 1939, their world radically changed. German troops overran Radom. By March 1941, cousin Izrael, his brothers and sisters, Uncle Mortka and Aunt Symla were confined to the Radom Ghetto by the German Army. In the ghetto, forced labor, starvation, and murder were routine. They all appear on a list of ghetto residents at this time. The liquidation of the ghetto, which was orchestrated by Fritz Katzmann, a brutal German SS officer, began in August 1942, and ended in July 1944, with approximately 30,000 to 32,000 victims (men, women and children) deported aboard Holocaust trains to their deaths at the Treblinka extermination camp. Katzmann was responsible for murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent men, woman and children in Poland during the war. I searched the displaced persons lists which were published after the war. They did not appear on these lists. They are listed on the Yad Vashem website as “presumed murdered”. This is where this newly discovered branch of my family’s history ends.
Decisions have consequences. The decision to leave. The decision to stay. I am here today because my Great Grandfather Isadore and my Grandpa Sam and his sister Ruella decided to walk out of their familiar, comfortable, vibrant community in Radom. They were courageous. I am so thankful they did not decide to stay. My grandparents never talked of their family that they left behind in Europe. When I was 19 years old, in the summer of 1982, I was heading off to Europe with a Eurail pass. When I excitedly told my Grandmother that I was heading to Europe for a month, she looked at me with astonishment and asked “why on earth do you want to go to that god forsaken place?” I was totally perplexed. Now I understand where she was coming from. My grandparents had a wonderful life in America. Today, recently learning of this family history, I fully appreciate that decisions have consequences, some very happy and some very tragic. In a way, some decisions mean life and some decisions mean death.