Roots Expedition in Czestochowa, Poland

Let me premise my trip to Czestochowa  with some of my family history. For most of my life,  my Grandmother told me she came from the City of Churches in Czestochowa, Poland. She said there was a famous Black Madona  in her city. Later in life I read a book about a young womans’ search for Black Madonas and after reading it it sparked an interest in my mind of what my Grandmother had said to me. Well, little did I know about the City of Churches, but when going there to seek out the possible gravesites of my long desceased relatives;  I realized this was The CITY OF THE CHURCH!  The Jasna Gora Bascillaca  & The  Black Madona is an ICON and people make pilgramages to see Their Lady of Jasna Gora every year. I felt like I was one of the pilgrams and when I saw her, I cried and  was notably the most beautiful piece of art work I had ever laid eyes on. I prayed to her like all the pilgrams and I was in complete AWE when I was in her presence. Fast forward to the following day when I met my Archivists who assited with me with filling in some blanks about my family that I didnt even know existed; which I will wrte about in a bit…

This story is not only of my trip to the city of my Grandparents birth and their family members it is a story of Immigration to the United States of America approximately over 100 years ago. My immediate 1st and 2nd cousins await this story and I hope I can reach out to other relatives who may  live  in France,  Israel and Australia. I have not heard that any of my relatives have undertaken a trip to Poland to find their roots so, I  hope this story inspires others to find out about their ancestors. About 15 years ago I had a second cousin Ezra , passed along a Genealogy Chart from the paternal side of my  Grandfathers family.

The history of my GRANDFATHERs’ family goes back to my Great, Great, Great- Grandfather Moshe Rozenzaft (the Rosensaft name was changed with “z” becoming “s”in early 1900; maybe at Ellis Island) b. 1799-d.1833 from Czestochowa, Poland.  My Great Grandparents names were Moshe Rosensaft and Pesa Shyay-Rozenzaft…My Grandfathers’ name was Julius Rosensaft (Juda Rozenzaft 1895-1988) married to Rachael Szoepa(1923) parents of Pearl Rosensaft-Cohen(b.1925-d.1995)Pearl and Phil Cohen are parents to  my cousins Lois Cohen-Husney and Larry Cohen. Anita Nikki Rosensaft-Balter (b.1930 d.1988) is 2nd daughter to Julius and Rae Rosensaft. Nikki and Jack Balter  are parents to Mitchell and Nanci (me). Grandpa Julius was a brother to 5 other siblings:  The siblings name were Beresch(Bernard b,1886=d.?)   Wolf Ber(B1883-d.1943) married to Ruchla -Sztajuinc , Wolf Ber was killed in the large Ghetto by Germans(in Czestochowa), parents  of Ella Rozenzaft-Bornstein(B.1916-d.? moved to Melbourne, Australia.  Tola Rozenzaft-Chajusin, MD,(b.1912 d.March-1943, shot by Germans in a mass execution with other Intelligentsia and Intellectuals(after being hidden in the Mikve Bldg. in large Ghetto) killed and  buried in  a mass grave in Czestochowa Jewish Cemetary.

Saba (b.1925-d. May-1943; shot by Germans in Czestochowa in small Ghetto)  Nathan Rozenzaft (b.1890 d.1961) father of Jeanne Rosensaft -Kantrowitz and Melvin Rosensaft, Peril (Paula)(b. d. Mother to Hanka (moved to Australia; mother Valla Bornstein-Monheit (alive and moved to Israel with a flat still in Poland?).

My GRANDMOTHER Rae Shopper (Rachael Szoepa 1901-1993) verbally gave me information on her family ( I do not have an official genealogy chart).  The info she as provided when she was alive is as follows: my Great Grandmother Pesa Szoepa (1857-1919) and bore 6 children (Grandma Rae being one of them); Ithcha (Izzy) father of Sally Shopper-b.? USA…still alive, Sally (Izzyz’ daughter )and Milton parents of Leslee  – and Audrey-USA.   Chaim Szoepa, Wolf Szoepa father of Moshe and Evan(possibly 2 more sons..alive/)resides??, Leah Szoepa-Kremsky(died 1943) mother of Avarahm, Mania Szoepa-Windman(died in

Poland year?), mother of Wolf (b.1913 d.1989?), Livel and Polscha(b.-d.?)  Grandma Raes’ sister ( who remained in Poland) Mania, also had a  small business at the stall in the small Ghetto in Czestochowa and sold beans,peas and cereals on  boxes at a stall (Small gettho is still standing but may not be for much longer)…Her sister Leah had two sewing machines in the house and on Tuesdays they would bring the pants that she made to the square(small Ghetto) to sell. Moshe my Great Grandfather was a tailor and my Great grandmother had 6 children to take care of. My Grandmother remembers hanging around her older sister Leah while she would sew shirts and bedding. She also remembers going to kindergarten and grade A1 and remembers the books were in Polish but when the Russian inspectors came in to the school they had to take out the Russian books from their desks(hiding the Polish books). She said she knew how to say good morning in Russian plus a few other words.She said that making a living was very hard for her family, living next to the small Ghetto in Czestochowa. While I was there I was shown 400 year old underground basements and a shop above ground in which there was a hidden place where children were drugged and hidden from the Nazis in this small Ghetto before being sent away under the Nazis’ noses.. Now back to my Grandparents in America….

My Grandfather came over to New York in the early 1900’s from Czestochowa and entered into the US Army during WW1( I have his honorable discharge from the US Army dated April 19, 1919.). He taught himself English by using a dictionary/partial encyclopedia. He was a house painter by trade after the war. He had a brother Nathan who had died & whom I was named after..(The Jews use the 1st initial of their deceased relative and name their children in honor of them).. I never met any of my Grandfathers family. The only uncle I remember  was Uncle  Izzy (my grandmothers brother),. Uncle Izzys’ wife picked my Grandmother up from the boat after she came through Ellis Island in 1920.( she was with her sisters’ sister in law and 4 of 8 children); and a Russian sailor had helped her with repeating  her name in English, while on the boat (that is where her name Scoepa became Shopper).. People would come to her brother Izzys’ home (Harleem NY) to meet her and they called her the “greencazena”!  She would go out with groups of friends she met who were from around her home town in Poland. That is where she met Julius Rosensaft although he was 7 years older than she;  she’d go out to the movies (10 cents), on subways that was 5 cents(in groups including him) & trips  included  Far Rockaway and Coney Island.  My Grandfather encouraged her to learn English on her own and she quit school in Harlem after 3 weeks! She was proud that she didn’t have an accent after she learned English! My Grandmother lived in Harlem for a few years before she got married and she worked as a “trimmer”(cutting off threads on dresses) for $5.00 a week. Her next job was working with millinery for $12.00 a week. My Grandfather made $35.00 a week belonging to the Painters Union and once he had an increase in pay from $9.00 a day to $12.00 a day, they celebrated. She and my Grandfather  and got married in NY in 1923. My Grandmother said they didn’t lose too much money in the crash of ’29 cause she took her money out of the bank, but times where hard  because there was little work. She said there were long lines for food and coal she had  ration cards and she said her first born  (Pearl) started drinking coffee at an early age!  My Grandmother stated “Our parents celebrated our marriage by getting together in Czestochowa and had sponge cake and wine in our honor!”   After my Grandparents marriage they moved to Concorde Ave., Bronx to a 4 room apt.and two of her brothers lived with them until they got married. The apt. cost $64.00 in rent and it was considered a “cold water flat”, a 3rd floor walk up and she thought she was living in high style in that apt. My Grandfather  had a hand crank car, a 1930 Dodge touring Sedan without windows, long running boards with a little bench b/w two front seats (first child car seat)!. The books in the house were in Hebrew In 1925 Pearl was born and then in 1930 Anita was born. They all moved to a 1 bedroom apt. on Jesup Ave.(which was torn down, years later, to make the Cross Bronx Expressway). Both sisters slept in the living room(without TV but they had a radio). They would go to Open Air movies on Prospect Ave.  and when they went to the movies 2-3 times a week they’d get a new dish for each person in the family! I have my Grandparents Naturalization papers from 1942 and  1943. After the war years my Grandparents never discussed anyone in Europe.

I remember having Jewish holidays at my Grandparents house in the Bronx on Jesup Ave. and then in Coop City where they lived into their later years. I used also visit my Grandparents up in the “country” in a Bungalow Colony in the Monticello (Pine Tree?) area of NY during the summers. Fast forward…  I celebrated my Grandparents 50th Anniversary with my family in the Bronx. My fondest memories of my Grandmother was her “mish mosh”  soup and she always had chocolate pudding in the green colored glass dish and tuna fish was always on hand for me! I thought she was the greatest cook on earth! My Grandfather always had a crossword puzzle book and I thought he was the smartest man in the room! Before  my Grandfathers death I visited him in Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. I was the last family member to see him at the age of 95 years old. He said to my husband and I at the time that he was checking out tomorrow (which he did to Heaven) and he also “thanked my husband for marrying me and said I came from Good Stock!” . My Grandmother went to live with my Aunt Pearl and Uncle Phil to live out the last years of her life in Las Vegas . I got to introduce her last Great Grand child (my son Dorian; the last of her 4 Great Grandchildren) before she died in Las Vegas , NV.

My cousin Lois passed the geneology chart from cousin Ezra (whom I never met),  to me and I have had it hanging on my wall for years. I once went to a program in Davie, Florida at the Nova Southeastern University produced by the children of Czestochowa, which depicted the Life of Jews from my Grandparents town. It sparked my interest to find out more about my family who remained in Poland after WW1. I had no clue about the information on the deaths of some of my family during WW2 until I met with an achivist in the town of Czestochwa in 2015! I also saw the area where the Large Ghetto stood (not far from the train station where the Jews were hearded into cattle cars to be deported to the camps). I was handed four pieces of paper from the Archivists (who also happened to be the Archivists of the Czestochowa Museum) which were all from Yad Vishem in Isreal. Noted on each paper was the birth, death, parental lineage etc and where my family memebers were killed and the year of death. Stories were told in each area we visited to trace where the family members lived (and some died). I did not go to any camps of death b/c prior to this trip I didnt know I had family left behind during the war that were killed by the Nazi’s. I had also read a small book prior to going to Poland called “I Survived Auchwizc” and the book had one line in it towards the end that made me decide;  I didnt need to go to see the camps. The line in the book stated “I am standing on a million peoples ashes” and that was enough for me as I had been to the Holocausyt museum in Washington, DC, Miami, FL memorial and heard numerous survivors discuss the Holocaust.

After the tour of where my relatives lived after my Grandmothers verbal history plus the Arcivists information; we drove to the Jewish Cemetary of Czestochowa. The Cemetery  was started in 1803 and the last Jews were buried there was in 1970 (very few Jews still live in my ancestors city of birth). The Archivist, Mr. Weislav,  actually wrote the book on the Cemetary and had my family information prior to my coming! He was responsible for mapping out approximately 4,000 existing stones in this cemetary. He is doing his PhD and writing a 2nd book on the cemetary. We hiked throughout this sacred place and it was a very solem time for me. I had brought a memroial candle from the Shoah in France to put on my Great Grandmothers grave. Her gravesite was one of the only graves where there was  Roman numerals and her name spelled in letters that were not Hebrew that I could read. We got  to  the last gravestone which was upside down, but both Mr. Weislav(my Arcivists) & Krystof (my City Host of from Czestochowa) turned the stone over and brushed off the many +(?) years of dirt. This was the last of  the 5 gravesites I was being shown that day. Mr. Wieslav told Kryztof in Polish that I should carefully look to the top left corner of the stone and observe a small amount of gold leaf paint that was in the engraved area. He explained that the stones had been knocked over by the Jews who were made to work in the cemetary to collect the granite, marble and gold leaf that was engraved in the letterings.  Afterwards,  the Jews were lined up in front of the stones and shot. I have pictures of a famous Rabbis’ sarcophagus that was shot up with bullet holes and automatic rifle holes that went straight through the stones where the Jews were told to stand(the Nazis’ didnt want to have the bullets richocet off the stones and get hurt).

I also passed  a stone that had the name Windman on it and knew that my family had cousins named Windman (Wolf) and I had also seen two names at the Shoa (memorial)in France that had two names of two female( possible cousins ?), named Windman and their birth dates and death dates. I was told at the time it couldnt be any relatives , but I know for a fact my cousin Wolf WIndman , was a Philantorpists to this particular cemetary and came back to Czestohowa, to help out in the cemetary! A half a year later Mr. Weislav gave me a record that Wolf Windman was indeed born in 1913 in Czestochwa and I also know for a fact that he came to America on a big boat to NYC from France where he had lived after  the war. He had owned a French Sweater factory and brought us sweaters upon arrival to NYC!. I was sure the two Windman names on the Shoa were his sisters. I heard a story from my cousins Audrey and Leslie (Izzy was their Grandfather and their mother Sally is still alive in NY as I mentioned above), who stated that theyn heard Wolf had escaped the concentration camps but I belive his sisters and other family members were not as lucky!  It is possible that his Philantropy was why he assisted with his time and money in the Jewish Cemetary of Czestochowa!

 

Back to the ending of the story of my visit to the last grave site of my great great Grandfather and the gold leaf lettering. I had not had any particular sad reaction prior to seeing all the graves and  the dark green moss and wet brown wood and the gravestones strewn about. When  I saw the gold leaf lettering, I cried… In fac, prior to seeing this last gravesite ( I kept telling every gravesite I walked over and around that I was honored that I was there and that some of their families did indeed survive and I thanked them for thier lives and said Kaddish at many of my families gravesites)! Both Mr. Weislav  and Krystof stood there looking at me as the tears just streamed down my face as I looked at the gold leaf paint…. They said Nanci what is wrong? I told Krystof to explain to Mr Weislav that I feel that I have come full circle at this family members gravestone! They asked why? I said that seeing the gold leaf lettering reminded me of my Grandfather Julius; as one of the things I was given after his death was a small can of Gold leaf paint from his painting days!

Also while in Warsaw. Poland a new friend (Margozolata) who hosted me at her  home gave me an Amber necklace. I was overwhelemed by the Generosity as we discussed that The Amber Guild was started back in 1499 and was used as a currency… When I got to Krystof’s home and I was getting ready to go to the Cemetery with him (he had NO Clue about the Jewish history of my family or even hadnt known of the history of the Jewish Cemetery in his city); that I had passed the necklace in my bag. I had found that 6 stones had broken off the necklace. I pocketed the stones and was able to lay the Amber stones on the graves of my family to honor them with words of gratitude for their lives(with stones from POLAND).

As I walked out of the Cemetary with the thought that all the Jews of Czestochowa  were a reminder of  many that I am sure have lived full lives (info from the visit I had at the 1,000 Years of Jewish History in Warsaw).. There were many that were buried in mass graves andmemories of  my own long ago relatives (whose stones I just visited) ….Plus the ancestors that hang on my Geneology chart in Florida reminded me that walking the Jewish Cemetery of Czestochowas was an Honorable way to explore some of my roots.. ..

I also have  a pretty interesting memory of the gravesites that Tuesday morning; as we all walked out to the road….  To the right of us were three people  standing there… one was a Bride in white, the 2nd  Groom in Black and the 3rd person was their photographer… They were having their wedding pictures taken at this beautiful cemetary that sunny morning (without the gravestones in the picture; just the beauty of the peaceful surroundings)   and the reminder that all lives are sacred and begin with LOVE…

 

 

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