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How Did I Find My Perished Family I Never Knew I Had...

Updated: May 10, 2023

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day last year, Tali, my sister, found a list of our relatives murdered during World War II on European soil. These were relatives we didn't even know we had.

Tali read at the opening of a memorial broadcast she edited and presented on the Israeli Defence Forces radio station that morning.

We grew up in an Israeli home where the "Holocaust" was never discussed. In our house, the radio was always on. However, Mom or Dad didn't sit every day at noon by the radio to listen to the special program “Searching for Lost Relatives", broadcast daily during lunchtime.

Both my parents were born in Israel. Their parents were pioneers who immigrated to Israel in the 1920s. They carved, paved, and built in the Jezreel Valley and Hadera. Memorial Day for Holocaust and Heroism was a day of ceremony at school.I usually read the "Yizkor" prayer in front of the audience, and nothing else.

So I was surprised when I heard my sister read at the beginning of last year's Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day program on IDF radio. She read the list of our relatives who perished by the Nazis and their aides.

At that moment I felt that I owed it to them, as much as to us, to publish thestories; for the sake of the future generation.

Since that morning when the segment was broadcasted - a year has passed. Twelve months of an archaeological dig, assembling a puzzle, building a family tree, frantically searching for every piece of paper, picture, and edge of a story.

The feeling was that this search started a few years too late. Grandma and Grandpa died in the early seventies. My Dad has not been with us for a quarter of a century, and Mom no longer remembers.

Despite this, I succeeded with the help of my sisters and cousins who joined me on the journey. They joined the task of restoring part of the family lost in the thirties and forties of the last century.

During the last year, I met the eleven brothers and sisters of my grandfather Eliyahu HaCohen Rapoport. These were our grandfather's father and mother. From the lines written densely on sheets of paper, envelopes, and postcards, I learned about the hardships of the family between the revolutions, wars, disturbances, and bloodshed. This was between the years 1900 and the last letters written and sent in 1942-3, the last letters that taught about acceptance of the situation. They did not receive the certificates to immigrate to Israel, life in the ghetto became more and more difficult every day, and they had to abandon their property to the mercy of the Russians, Germans, Ukrainians, and Poles who did not protect them. Only those who left before the war survived; Four of them, three brothers and a sister. Yes, there was also another brother, a fifth, who survived, but he was pronounced dead by his brothers and sister after they realized that he had cheated them out of the inheritance left after the martyrdoms in the gas chambers in Buchenwald, Auschwitz, and Bialystok - and they never contacted him.

my grandfather's family tree. Picture created 1932

I learned about the blood relationship and the tragedies the family experienced during the first half of the twentieth century. About Yitzhak, my grandfather's cousin, who immigrated to Israel in the early thirties and found his death in the events of 1936 on the Jaffa-Tel Aviv border when he was beaten to death with a large stone by Arab rioters; about his mother Chaya Zeitlin and his younger brother, Noah, who returned to Riga following Yitzhak's death; About the younger Noah who started a family in Riga with Hana Kaufman and they had a first son, Isaiah they named him, after Noah's father. Three or four years later the whole family found themselves in the gas chambers in two separate camps.

And while I discover the branches of the family that were destroyed by the malicious hand in the Holocaust, I am exposed to a world haunted by demons that haunted our grandmother, Yochaved, father's mother, Yochaved to the Larinman family. A Russian aristocrat, in her opinion, immigrated to Israel in 1923 and did not "get out of bed" until she died. As a child and later as a teenager, I never understood what Grandma had. They explained to me that the difficult life in the land stricken by cholera and bilharzia was unbearably difficult for her. Another time they explained that the gap between what she was told about the Land of Israel and what she found here when she arrived by ship at the port of Haifa caused her to sink into depression.

And here - while perusing hundred-year-old letters written in Yiddish in a high language as explained to me by the translator who did the translation work for me - she probably suffered from a young age from what today is diagnosed as post-trauma. It became clear to me from reading between the lines written on thin silk paper, that for seven years between the revolutions in Russia and the end of World War I, my grandmother, who was then a high school student in Ukraine, in a small town called Kermanchog, witnessed the atrocities committed by the Ukrainians, the Poles, and the Russians against the Jews. Murder, fire, rape, looting, and destruction were probably the images that accompanied Yocheved the girl - everything she saw, heard, and experienced - she never forgot her whole life.

My Grandparents with my Dad two year old. 1926

A mandatory passport with a picture of a pale child and stamps of visas to Italy, Austria, Lithuania, and a stamp of departure from the port of Haifa in April 1936, turned out to be my father's passport, which was issued to him to visit his family in Kaunas; Shmuel, Grandfather's older brother, and Fanny his wife.

My Dad's Aunt Fanny and uncle Shmuel - Kaunas 1936

My Dad's passport 1936

Shmuel, as his younger brother Yehoshua Rapoport wrote about him, was the most successful among the children. Shmuel left at the age of ten his home in Bialystok and moved to live in the district city in his uncle's house. Together with him he entered the import and export business, and "became a millionaire" wrote Yehoshua in his book "Shabri Haim". Yehoshua fled Poland at the last moment and reached Shanghai in China, under Japanese occupation. He was imprisoned in the ghetto in Shanghai with about twenty thousand other Jewish refugees until 1945. He was released at the end of the war, and left for Australia, where in Melbourne he became a successful Yiddish writer.

Despite the greenfields, the new friends Dad met there, the trips to healing springs, and the piano and English lessons - Dad refused to stay in Kaunas and complete his studies - and returned to Palestine after six months. Uncle Shmuel and Aunt Fani who hosted him in their home stayed in a big house in the center of the city. This was adjacent to the National Museum of Lithuania, with the piano and the silverware. Seven years later everything was destroyed, burned, and burned up in the crematoria smoke.

After a year of digging in crates, closets, suitcases, and cardboard boxes, I reunited a large family lost in the Holocaust. I brought them alive.

On Remembrance Day this year, 2023, it will be possible to put a face to the names on the long list. This is the long list that my sister read on the radio show, on Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and Heroism, in April 2022.

And these are a few names of our family members, in eternal memory, for our grandparents, both Zakheim-Goshansky and Rapoport-Lerinman, who immigrated to Israel at the beginning of the 20th century, left behind large families who perished and never spoke about them, taking these memories combined with guilt feelings and longings with them to the graveyard.


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