Walking in the Shadows of My Brotman Great-Grandparents

My third day in Poland was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip for me.  Visiting the town where my great-grandparents lived was the initial motivation for going to Central Europe in the first place.  The stops in Prague, Budapest, and Vienna were the icing on the cake, but the cake was Poland and, more specifically, Tarnobrzeg.  (I finally learned how to pronounce it, thanks to our guide Tomasz: TarNOBjeg.)  I had high and emotional expectations; they were exceeded by the reality.

First, some background.  When I first started doing genealogy research, I had no idea where my maternal grandmother’s family had lived in Europe other than they were Galitzianers—from Galicia.  My mother had no idea what town in Galicia had been their home, and for a long time the only location given on the records I could find was Austria, which made sense since Galicia was part of the Austria-Hungary Empire when the Brotmans lived there.

Then a few pieces came together—first, I obtained my great-uncle Hyman Brotman’s naturalization application giving his home town as Jeekief, which is a decent phonetic spelling of Dzikow, once a separate village but later incorporated into Tarnobrzeg, a much larger town.  Then I found a ship manifest for Yossel Brod, most likely my great-grandfather, from Tarnobchiek, another phonetic spelling, this time of Tarnobrzeg.  The ship manifests for my great-uncles Abraham and David Brotman gave their home town at Grebow, a small village less than ten miles from Tarnobrzeg.  It seemed clear to me that Tarnobrzeg was the area where my Brotman ancestors had lived in Galicia.  And I had to go there.


Hyman Brotman’s Naturalization Application (Click twice to zoom in.)


David and Abe Brodmann on the Portia 1889

David and Abe Brodmann on the Portia 1889


Joseph Brotman ship manifest

Joseph Brotman ship manifest

I had originally hoped that there might be some records left in Tarnobrzeg that had not yet been digitized and put on line by JewishGen, Gesher Galicia, or JRI Poland, but our guide Tomasz warned me that he believed that whatever records still existed had in fact been found already and that we would not find any more in the town.  I adjusted my expectations accordingly, and I decided to enjoy the trip for the experience of being there rather than as a research opportunity.

Tomasz picked us up at our hotel at 9 am that morning, and we got to meet my recently found cousin Phyllis for the first time.  Phyllis and I had connected through DNA testing, which showed us as third cousins and showed her aunt Frieda and my mother as second cousins.  By comparing our family trees we had reached the conclusion that the likely connection was through my great-grandmother Bessie Brot Brotman and her grandmother Sabina Brot, whose father we believe was my great-grandmother’s brother.  Sabina’s home town in Galicia was Radomysl nad Sanem, another town about ten miles from Tarnobrzeg, which we would also visit that day.  The common surname and the proximity of residences seemed to support our hypothesis.  We quickly connected in person, chatting excitedly about our research, our travels, and our hopes for that day.

IMG_2705 cousins

As we drove from Krakow to Tarnobrzeg, Tomasz spoke about the history of Jews in Poland. By the 19th century Jews made up 10% of the population of Poland, and they lived all over the country—in the cities and in small towns and in villages.  The land we drove through was mostly rural even today, and Tomasz said that Jews were often invited by the kings or the aristocracy to live in the towns to support the local economy; Jews had the education and the skills to provide bookkeeping, trade, banking, and other economic necessities to the farmers who lived in these regions.  In Tarnobrzeg it was the Tarnowski family that owned the land and invited the Jews to come live there.


Castle of the Tarnowski family in Tarnobrzeg

Castle of the Tarnowski family in Tarnobrzeg



When I asked him about the level of religious observance of the Jewish residents who lived in places like Tarnobrzeg, Tomasz said that there was a diverse range of religious observance—-from Hasidim to more traditional Orthodox to more liberal Jews and to secular Jews. Other sources point out that Tarnobrzeg was an important Hasidic center with well-regarded Hasidic leaders and rabbis.

Tomasz also spoke about the fact that Tarnobrzeg was one of the leading Jewish population and industrial centers in Galicia outside of Krakow.  The main industry aside from agriculture was the production of sulfur, a product that it still important to the local economy of the region.  Tarnobrzeg is located where two rivers meet—the Vistula (which also runs through Krakow) and the San, and thus was an important trade location.  It also is very close to what was once the border with the Russian Empire, and when Russia obtained that land, families were often separated, some living in Austria-Hungary, some in the Russian Empire.  In the 19th century when my great-grandparents lived there, the population of Tarnobrzeg was more than 75% Jewish.  There were about 2800 Jews living there in the 1880s when my great-grandparents decided to leave.

I asked Tomasz why people like my great-grandparents would ever have left a place like Tarnobrzeg, where Jews were doing well and treated well and were more than a majority of the town’s residents.  He said that in the late 19th century, there was both an economic crisis in Poland and a significant increase in the population. (There was also a great deal of anti-Semitism in Poland, as other sources describe.)  Jews and non-Jews left for greater economic opportunities.  When I pondered how a family would be able to tear themselves away from their home, both emotionally and financially, Tomasz explained that there were emigration agents facilitating these departures.  They would circulate brochures touting the advantages of going to America, and the fact that many others were leaving made it easier for a family like mine to make a similar choice.  I asked how they would actually leave, and Tomasz said there was a train that came to Tarnobrzeg that would take them to one of the port cities, like Gdansk or Hamburg, where they would catch a ship for America.  It would be costly, but the potential benefits made it all seem worth the risk.

Finally we arrived in Tarnobrzeg itself.  It was not exactly what I expected, as it is a large town, not a little shtetl, and it is a thriving town—lots of people, lots of stores, lots of cars.  Not a quiet little romantic village out of Fiddler on the Roof at all.  There was even a Lego store right on the main square.


Lego store on main square in Tarnobrzeg

Lego store on main square in Tarnobrzeg

But once we got out of the car and started to walk around, I felt some almost eerie connection—that this was a place where my great-grandparents had walked, had shopped, had worked.  Many of the buildings that surround the square were there back in the 1870s and 1880s when my great-grandparents and their children lived there.  Maybe one of those buildings contained a shop where my great-grandfather worked (on that ship manifest his occupation was given as “kaufmann” or merchant).  Maybe my family lived in one of them.


Main square in Tarnobrzeg

Main square in Tarnobrzeg


IMG_2657 old buildings on square in Tarnobrzeg


I stood in that square, imagining it 150 years ago as a place filled with families like my own, Jewish families of all sorts, living in a safe and comfortable way in a safe and comfortable place. I could imagine my great-uncle Chaim who became Hyman and then Herman and my great-aunt Tema who became Tillie, just small children, holding their mother’s hands as they walked through that square.   I could block out the Lego store and the ugly modern supermarket and see just the old buildings as they might have looked in the 1880s.


IMG_2663 Tomasz our guide in Tarnobrzeg

Our guide Tomasz Cebulski leading the way in Tarnobrzeg


IMG_2658 square in Tarnobrzeg IMG_2662 street in Tarnobrzeg IMG_2664 my ancestral town

Tomasz took us to the building which was once the synagogue. According to the official Tarnobrzeg website, it was heavily damaged by the Nazis and used to store grain.  It was renovated in the 1970s into a public library, and there is almost no sign today that it was ever a synagogue building.  The windows were changed, and inside where there was once a prayer hall and aron kodesh are now stacks filled with books.  When we asked in the library whether they had any photographs or books or records about the synagogue or the former Jewish community, all they could find was one copy of a brochure that had only been created a few years ago.

IMG_2659 where the prayer hall stood, now a library

Space where the prayer hall once was in the Tarnobrzeg synagogue

IMG_2661 former synagogue building

Exterior of building where the synagogue entrance had been


Tarnobrzeg Synagogue

Tarnobrzeg Synagogue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here are some photographs of the building when it was a synagogue:

The only visible sign that the building was built as a synagogue is a small plaque on the exterior of the building in a location that almost no one could ever see or read if they were not looking for it.  We had to walk around the building through the lawn to get this photograph. The only small comfort was that the building was being used for books and education, not for commerce or worse.

IMG_2660 marker on library marking it as location of synagogue

Memorial plaque on the former synagogue building


Tomasz also pointed out that the first Jewish cemetery was located just a block away, but was now a parking lot for the shopping area that now exists there.  According to this video prepared in 2008, the Nazis destroyed the synagogue and used the headstones to pave a road. (I suggest downloading the hi-def version and watching it; it will give you a better sense of the town and its history.)

We then drove to the other Jewish cemetery in Tarnobrzeg, which was opened in the 20th century and  where there is still an ohel with a Star of David.  Sadly, the cemetery is not maintained at all, and there are just a handful of headstones still standing, most covered with weeds and snails.  I took photographs of as many as I could and now hope to get these translated.

IMG_2665 ohel for cemetery Tarnobrzeg IMG_2666 cemetery in Tarnobrzeg cemetery IMG_2668 IMG_2669 IMG_2670 IMG_2671 IMG_2672 IMG_2673 birdhouse in the cemetery IMG_2674 cemetery

After visiting the cemetery, we went to a small museum Tomasz knew about, where we met with an incredibly helpful woman who did not speak any English, but when Tomasz explained why I was there, she was very excited and anxious to help.  She provided us with some books with drawings and  photographs of Tarnobrzeg before World War II.

IMG_2677 images from books at the museum in Dzykow IMG_2678 IMG_2679 IMG_2685

The woman at the museum also explained where Dzikow had been located before it merged into Tarnobrzeg, so we drove there and saw some very old homes, built almost like log cabins.  I was enchanted and wondered whether one of these buildings had once been my great-grandparents’ home.

IMG_2690 IMG_2692 IMG_2693

As we left Tarnobrzeg, Tomasz told us what had happened to the Jews there during the Holocaust. Many were shot and killed just outside of town and buried there.  Many others were taken to the San River and shot, their bodies falling into the water.  The rest were eventually transported to a concentration camp or a death camp.  If any survived, they have not returned to Tarnobrzeg.  There are no known Jews living there today.  What would my great-grandparents, both of whom died before the Holocaust, have thought if they returned to their hometown today? It would no longer be the place they knew in almost any way, except for the old buildings that survive.

Nazis rounding up the Jews of Tarnobrzeg 1939

Nazis rounding up the Jews of Tarnobrzeg near the San River 1939


I could have stayed and wandered around Tarnobrzeg for hours, but we had two more stops to make: Radomysl nad Sanem and Grebow.  We headed first to Radomysl nad Sanem, where Phyllis’ grandmother had lived. It is on the other side of the San River and is a very small little town with a small town square and municipal building and perhaps fifty homes, if that many.  Its Jewish population before World War II was less than 400 people, and the village was mostly Jewish.  We drove from one end of the town to the other, and it took only a few minutes.  Even more so than in Tarnobrzeg, there is no sign that there were ever Jews there.  Phyllis was able to obtain some brochures about the town from the library there, but nothing that discussed the former Jewish community.

IMG_2698 Radomysl nad Sanem where Sabina Brot lived IMG_2699 IMG_2700 IMG_2701 IMG_2703


Our last stop was a quick one in Grebow, a town even smaller than Radomysl nad Sanem where there was not even a library we could visit.  I don’t know whether this was where Abraham and David Brotman were born or simply where they were living at the time they emigrated.  Perhaps they had moved here for greater opportunities than they could find in Tarnobrzeg.  I don’t know.  It’s such a tiny village that all I can do is imagine them living there and then wonder what they must have thought when they landed in a place as large and crowded and dirty as late 19th century New York City’s Lower East Side.

IMG_2706 tiny town of Grebow IMG_2707 Grebow IMG_2709 public building Grebow IMG_2710


We then headed back to Krakow.  I was exhausted and emotionally drained and filled with thoughts and feelings.  We were taking another night train that night, this time to Budapest.  As we ate a quick dinner at our hotel, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion in a way that surprised me.  My eyes filled with tears—tears for the people who had been killed, tears for my great-grandparents who had left this country for better things, tears of gratitude that they had done that, and tears of sadness that I was leaving a place that part of me truly felt was my homeland.











We arrived in Krakow after a pretty much sleepless night on the train, and the weather was nasty—very cool and raining hard.  Once again, we overpaid a cabdriver (though not by nearly as much) to get to our hotel at 7 am, where our room was, as expected, not ready.  (Check-in wasn’t until 3 pm.)  But the young man at the reception desk was so friendly and helpful that it immediately changed my outlook.  I highly recommend the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel in Krakow—a small and friendly hotel with an incredibly professional, efficient, and friendly staff.  Although the location on a small side street at first seemed odd, we soon realized how ideal that location was—about ten minutes from the main square in Krakow and even closer to the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz.

Our sleeping accommodations from Prague to Krakow

Our sleeping accommodations from Prague to Krakow

After breakfast at the hotel, we decided to venture out and see the city.  We took umbrellas, but fortunately we never had to open them; the skies never turned blue, but the rain was gone.  We walked to the market in the main square of Krakow where we had planned to go on two group walking tours that day, one of the Old Town, the other of the Jewish quarter.  When we got to the main square, vendors were just starting to open their stands, and the square itself was fairly empty.  The square is magnificent in size—reportedly, the largest public square in Europe.  There are cafes and shops surrounding the square as well as a number of churches and government buildings.  We wandered around a bit, and there was almost a Fanueil Hall feel to the place—a large indoor market lined with souvenir stands.  Unfortunately, the weather really was not great, but we did take a few photographs.

IMG_2625 Main Square Old Town Krakow 5 24 IMG_2626 Cloth Hall Main Square Old Town Krakow IMG_2627 Krakow Street IMG_2628 Krakow Street scene

Krakow main square krakow

After some deliberation, we decided to go on a tour of the Jewish Quarter in the morning and Old Town in the afternoon with SeeKrakow.  Our tour guide was a middle-aged Polish man who spoke English well, and the group of about sixteen people was quite diverse in background.  We were the only people from an English speaking country.  There were people from Spain, France, Belgium, and Switzerland.  They all understood English; it was embarrassing.  We were the only people in the group who could not speak a second language.  Most of the others could speak three.  The American educational system is an utter failure in preparing our children for the global world we live in.

Anyway, we marched off with our leader (whose name escapes me, perhaps for good reason), and after a few stops, I realized that he was not a good fit for me.  Maybe it was the contrast to Andrea and Helena, our guides in Prague; maybe it was the nature of being on a group rather than private tour.  The tour leader was knowledgeable and pleasant, but I felt that he had a personal agenda to promote instead of providing an in-depth and historical view of the Jewish Quarter.  Over and over his message seemed to be that Poland had always been tolerant and accepting of its Jewish citizens and that the Polish people were also victims of the Holocaust.  What he said is historically accurate in many ways, but it was the way he delivered his message and his seeming defensiveness that troubled me.

After about the first hour, I started to think that (a) I didn’t want to go on the Old Town afternoon tour with this guide, and (b) I didn’t want to continue on the Jewish Quarter tour with this guide.  When we realized that his tour would not give us a chance to enter into any of the synagogues we passed (which he did describe, but at times showed us only the back or side of the building), we made a decision to leave the tour and explained to the guide that we wanted to spend more time in the Quarter rather than continue with the group.

Unfortunately, I had made one serious error in planning our itinerary—I had failed to check a Jewish calendar beforehand, and I had not realized that our one day in Krakow would be the holiday of Shavuot.  That meant that many of the synagogues, at least those still operating as synagogues, would not be open to the public for tours that day.  (It was also the Catholic holiday Pentecost, meaning that many stores and offices were also closed that day.)  If I could have changed one thing on our trip itinerary, I would have added at least another day to our stay in Krakow—not only because of the conflict with Shavuot, but also because we just did not have enough time to do the city justice.

But when you are traveling, you do what you can do.  So over lunch, we realized that we did not have time to see many of the sites in Krakow outside the Jewish Quarter—the Wawel Castle and the churches and other buildings we’d only glimpsed in Old Town.  We also realized that our sleepless night was catching up with us.  So we spent the afternoon wandering through the Jewish Quarter, soaking up what we could, and visiting the places we could enter.  I hope that someday we can return to Krakow and see the city in more depth.

Unlike the Jewish Quarter in Prague, which as I wrote was substantially torn down in the late 19th century, most of the structures from the original Jewish Quarter in Krakow are still standing—the winding cobblestones streets and old worn buildings have been there for hundreds of years.  As our guide said, Krakow’s Jewish quarter is much more “authentic” than that in Prague because it reflects the way the ghetto looked when it was a ghetto. It also reflects more of the wear and tear of time, neglect, and the war.  Here are some photos of the square where the Jewish market once operated; it still operates as a market—a flea market when we were there, although, of course, there are no Jewish vendors or customers today.

IMG_2631 former Jewish marketplace, still a market 5 24 IMG_2633 former Jewish marketplace

We saw six still-existing buildings in the Krakow Jewish Quarter that were once operating synagogues. As with the synagogues in Prague, the only reason they are still standing is that the Nazis found the spaces useful for storage.  The oldest of the existing synagogue buildings, appropriately referred to as the Old Synagogue, was built at the beginning of the 15th century.  Its interior was destroyed by the Nazis, and it was then used for storage during their occupation of Poland.  Today the building is operated as a museum, displaying Jewish ritual objects and a historical exhibition of Krakow before and during the Nazi occupation.

IMG_2641 Old Synagogue IMG_2642 front of Old Synagogue old synagogue 2 old synagogue krakow

The second oldest synagogue still standing is the Remu’h Synagogue.  It is still an active congregation, so we were not able to enter it during our visit, nor we could enter the Old Jewish cemetery that is located adjacent to the synagogue building.  All I could get was the one photograph through the gate.  The Remu’h synagogue was built in the mid-16th century, and its interior also was substantially destroyed by the Nazis and then used for storage.

Remu'h Synagogue

Remu’h Synagogue

Both the Old and the Remu’h synagogues are located on what was the main square in the Jewish quarter where today there are numerous restaurants, many providing “Jewish” dishes on their menus (but not kosher) and klezmer music at night.  It’s a very pretty square, but the faux Jewishness is clearly intended to manipulate Jewish tourists like us, coming to see a world that no longer exists.

IMG_2643 main square in Jewish Quarter Krakow 5 24 IMG_2644 Jewish Quarter Krakow

The High Synagogue was the third synagogue built in Krakow, sometime after the Remu’h but also in the 16th century.  It was called the High Synagogue because the prayer hall was located upstairs.  We were able to climb those stairs and visit the former prayer hall because today it is a museum.  The exhibit there was very moving.  Several families of former Krakow Jews provided photographs to the museum of their families, depicting what their lives were like in the 1920s and 1930s before the Nazis arrived.  I was surprised to see very modern-looking families, engaged in activities like skiing and boating, as opposed to the images I had had in my head of ultra-Orthodox men with payes and long black coats.  As in Prague, by the early 20th century Jews in Krakow were full citizens, no longer required to live in a ghetto.  Many were quite successful merchants, and their families lived very comfortable and modern lives.

IMG_2639 High Synagogue IMG_2640 Jewish quarter Jewish school

Of course, it doesn’t matter whether they were Hasidim or assimilated, but I have to admit it made it easier for me to identify with these people, knowing their lives were not unlike mine.  Reading the stories of what happened to these families was heartbreaking.  Even though someone survived in these families and was thus able to preserve the photographs and the stories, each of these families lost many members during the Holocaust.

The only other synagogue building we could enter was that of the former Kupa Synagogue.  It was built in the 17th century, and like the other synagogues, was severely damaged by the Nazis.  We were able to enter the building and see the prayer hall, where people seemed to be setting up for some event.  We are not sure exactly how this synagogue is used today since it was open for visitors on the holiday.

Back of Kupa Synagogue

Back of Kupa Synagogue showing the ghetto wall


We also stopped to see the outside of the Isaac Synagogue, also built in the 17th century and now the headquarters for Chabad in Krakow, and the newest of the synagogues, the Tempel Synagogue, a Reform synagogue built in the mid-19th century.  Neither was open to visitors.

Tempel Synagogue

Tempel Synagogue

IMG_2638 Izaak Synagogue now Chabad

Isaac Synagogue


But next to the Tempel Synagogue is the JCC of Krakow, which was open and where we spoke with a woman at the reception desk.  She told us that they have 500 members, although only 120 are “registered” Jews.  The JCC provides educational and cultural programming, Shabbat dinners, and holiday celebrations, and aims to revive a Jewish community in Krakow.  It was uplifting to be in this new building and see some signs of hope for the very small Jewish community that exists today in Krakow.

jcc krakow

We ended our walk through the Jewish Quarter on that somewhat high note.  We later returned for dinner at the Klezmer Huis, where we ate “Jewish-style” food and listened to Klezmer music (sung by three young people who I assume are not Jewish, but who were excellent).

IMG_2646 Klezmer Huis IMG_2648 Klezmer Huis harvey IMG_2649 interior of Klezmer Huis IMG_2650 IMG_2652 Klezmer peformers

But although that was fun (if somewhat corny), it did not really cover up the reality.  Before World War II, there were about 65,000 Jews in Krakow, and they made up about 25% of the city’s population.  Today, as I said, there are 120 Jews living in Krakow.  Walking those streets and seeing the old houses once occupied by Jewish families, entering those once flourishing synagogues that are now just museums, seeing those photographs of the families who were destroyed, I could not help but feel thousands of ghosts following us around.  What would Krakow be like today if the descendants of those 65,000 people were alive? My day in Krakow left me angry and very sad.

The second day of our visit to Poland we learned more about what happened to those people.  More on that in my next post.



Home Sweet Home

We are back from our trip, and I have so much to say that I don’t even know where or how to start.  Traveling to a different place can change your whole view of the world, of your place in the world, and of yourself.  This trip did that in so many different ways.  I have hundreds of photographs to sort and label, a lot of notes to transcribe and ponder, and so many thoughts and memories floating through my head that I need to write them all down before I forget them.  So I can’t just start blogging in detail about the trip right away.  I will certainly report about the parts of the trip that related directly to my own family—the trip to Poland in particular—once I have it all digested.

For now I have these overall thoughts and a few photographs to share.  First, standing in the former Jewish quarters in Prague, Krakow, Budapest, and Vienna, some of which still have several synagogues (a few even still in operation), is a chilling and horrifying experience.  For me, these places that once bustled with Jewish grandparents, mothers, fathers, and children, going to work and going to school and going to shul, were a graphic and vivid reminder of what the world lost in the Holocaust.  Had it not been for the Nazis, these Jewish communities could and likely would still exist, adding to the culture and economy of these places and of the world just as they did for hundreds of years before their Jewish citizens were murdered.

A street in the former Jewish Quarter of Krakow

A street in the former Jewish Quarter of Krakow

Nothing made this more painfully vivid for me than standing in Tarnobrzeg, the town where my Brotman great-grandparents lived, a town that was once 75% Jewish and where not one Jew lives today.  The only signs that there were once Jews there were a small plaque on the library, a building that had once been the synagogue, and a Star of David near the gate to the neglected Jewish cemetery, where only a handful of headstones remain.

gravestone on the ground in the Jewish cemetery in Tarnobrzeg

gravestone on the ground in the Jewish cemetery in Tarnobrzeg

Second, every person, Jewish or not, should visit Terezin and Auschwitz.  I cannot say more.  The places say it all.  You cannot go to these places and not be changed.  No matter what you may have read or seen or heard about the Holocaust, you cannot be prepared for what you experience walking in those places of terror and death.  I have only two photographs of Terezin and no photographs of Auschwitz.  I could not bear to think about taking a photograph while standing where so many were slaughtered.



Third, I had little idea what life was like under Soviet domination in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary until we met several people who had lived during that era.  We were lucky to have guides in Prague, Poland, and Budapest who had witnessed the changes and were able to describe to us how different life was before and after the Soviets left in the late 1980s, early 1990s.  Today all these places are clearly capitalist, for better in many ways, for worse in others.  Seeing Starbucks and McDonalds and KFC everywhere amidst the old buildings in these gorgeous cities is jolting, but much better than seeing empty store windows and children forced to march at rallies to support the “state.”

Despite all the sadness that we felt as we learned about the past in these places, overall we experienced these cities as places of joyfulness, liveliness, and overall comfort.  Yes, there were beggars and homeless people, especially in Budapest, and I am sure that outside the areas where tourists congregate there is plenty of poverty and misery.  But each of the cities we visited were beautiful places filled with incredible and fascinating architecture, a huge number of cafes and restaurants and bars, museums teeming with people, cobblestone streets crowded with tourists and tour groups, and the sounds of happy, excited people.  There was music everywhere—in the streets, in the churches, and in the concert halls.

Dohany Synagogue in Budapest

Dohany Synagogue in Budapest

We had an incredible time.  Our tears and sadness were well-balanced with times of pure joy—climbing the tower to see all of Prague, clapping to Klezmer music in Krakow, walking along the river in Budapest, and eating unbelievable pastries in Vienna.  We heard music in every city, we stood in awe in Gothic cathedrals, we watched people laughing and drinking and eating in the cafes, and we walked and walked and walked until our feet were numb.  We had an incredible time.

Musikverein in Vienna

Musikverein in Vienna



My Brotmanville Cousins: Searching for Answers

One thing I have been trying to do as part of my preparations for our visit to Tarnobrzeg and the surrounding towns is a last ditch effort to find some other clues as to where my Brotman ancestors lived.  I have gone back through the research I’ve done on my great-grandparents and their Galician born children, Abraham, Max, David, Hyman, and Tillie, and have found no new clues.  Then I realized that now that I have some DNA confirmation that my great-grandfather Joseph was the brother of Moses Brotman of Brotmanville, I needed to go through their records as well to see if I could find some new clues.  I had done an initial search a few years ago, but had not yet gone back and checked it more thoroughly.

Moses Brotman

Moses Brotman courtesy of his granddaughter Elaine

What I already knew was that Moses Brotman had had many children, some born in Europe, some born in the US.  His oldest (known) child was his son Abraham, who was born in Europe.  Abraham Brotman had originally settled in New York City and established a cloak factory there, but was invited by those who created the Alliance Colony in Pittsgrove Township, New Jersey, to start a factory there to employ the residents when the farming season ended.  Eventually, a section of Pittsgrove was named Brotmanville in his honor.[1]

At this point I will not tell the full story of the Brotmanville family in America; that will have to wait. My immediate objective in reviewing my research of the Brotmanville Brotmans was to see if I could find any records that revealed where Moses and his family had lived before arriving in the US.  So I had to focus first on those who had been born in Europe, not those who were born in the US, although that meant also looking for records for the children born here to see if those records revealed the birthplaces of their European born parents

What I knew from the descendants and from my earlier research was that Moses had been married twice and Abraham had been the child of his first marriage.  Although the census records for Abraham are in conflict about his birthdate, the earliest to include his age, the 1900 census, reported his birthdate to be November 1863, long before Moses married Ida, the woman with whom he immigrated to America.

1900 US Census for Abraham Brotman

1900 US Census for Abraham Brotman Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: 993; Page: 17A; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993

Looking at the 1900 census report for Abraham, by 1900 he and his wife, Minnie Hollender, had been married for 13 years and had had six children, five of whom were still alive.  All six children were born in the US.  Abraham reported that he had arrived in the US in 1884, three years before marrying Minnie.  Their children as of 1900 were Joseph (10), Samuel (7), Gilbert (6), Nephtaly (later Herman) (4), and Leah (2).  They were living in Pittsgrove, New Jersey, and Abraham was working as a manufacturer.[2]

The 1910 census for Abraham and his family is only somewhat consistent with that of the 1900:  his age is 47, still giving him a birth year of 1863, but now his birthplace is reported as Russia. He and Minnie now reported that they had had eleven children, nine of whom were still alive.  In addition to the five listed above, there were three more daughters and one more son.

Abraham Brotman 1910 US census

Abraham Brotman 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: T624_908; Page: 15B; Enumeration District: 0154; FHL microfilm: 1374921

The 1920 census reported one more child and once again had Abraham’s birthplace as Austria.  However, he now claimed to be 48, thus born in 1872, not 1863 as previously reported.  Later records also made him ten years younger than had been reported on the 1900 and 1910 census reports.  Genealogists generally assume that the records closest in time are more likely to be accurate than those later in time (and people are more likely to make themselves younger as they get older), so I am inclined to assume that Abraham was born in 1863.  It also makes more sense that he was 21 when he immigrated, not 11.  But where was he born? Austria? Russia? And in what city or town?

Since both the 1930 and the 1940 census reported his birthplace as Austria, I am inclined to discount the 1910 and assume that the 1900, 1920, 1930 and 1940 census reports indicating his birthplace as Austria are more accurate.  And, of course, “Austria” meant within the Austria-Hungary Empire, just as it did for my great-grandparents and many other immigrants from that region, including Galicia.

But then where more specifically was he born? Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to find a death record for Abraham, and the death records I have for his children are no more specific.  For example, the death certificate for his oldest child, Joseph, only reports that his father’s birthplace was Austria.

Joseph Brotman death certificate Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Joseph Brotman death certificate
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Samuel’s death certificate says that his father’s birthplace was Russia.

Samuel Brotman death certificate Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Samuel Brotman death certificate
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Abraham’s youngest child, Aaron, who was born in 1911, died as a young man in 1939 from heart disease.  His death certificate indicates that his father was born in Austria.

Aaron Brotman death certificate Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Aaron Brotman death certificate
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Those were the only sources I have located so far that reflect anything about where Abraham was born.  I also had no records of what his mother’s name was nor did I have any indication of full siblings for Abraham, only the half-siblings born through his father’s second marriage.  So I then turned to Abraham’s father Moses and his children to see if there was more to learn through their records.

The earliest record I had found for Moses was his petition for naturalization, filed in 1894.  It had his birthplace as Russia.  It also said that he had arrived in the US in 1885.

Moses Brotman petition for Naturalization

Moses Brotman Petition for Naturalization “New Jersey, County Naturalization Records, 1749-1986,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-1971-29863-26750-98?cc=2057433&wc=M73R-4NL:351145001,351187001 : accessed 14 May 2015), Salem > Petitions for naturalization 1888-1895 > image 95 of 96; county courthouses, New Jersey.

The 1900 US census reported his birthplace and date as Austria in November 1844.  It also reported that he had immigrated in 1886 and that he was a farmer.  Like his son Abraham, he was living in Pittsgrove, New Jersey with his wife “Chay”  (probably Chaya), to whom he’d been married for sixteen years.  (Abraham was already 37 in 1900, indicating that Abraham was not Chaya’s son.) Moses and Chaya had had eight children, seven of whom were alive, according to the 1900 census.  The seven were Sadie (16), Katie (13), Samuel (10), Lilly (7), Isaac (5), Bessy (2), and Lewis (three months)[It is spelled “Lewis” on the census, but according to his grandson, his name was actually spelled “Louis.”]  The youngest four were born in New Jersey, Katie in New York, and Sadie and Samuel reportedly in Austria.  Of course, that made no sense to me—if Katie was older than Samuel, how could he have been born in Austria if she was born in New York? Had Moses and Chaya returned to Europe at the time Katie was born? Or was the census just in error?  If they really had immigrated in 1886 and if Samuel was 10 in 1900, he must have been born in the US.

Moses Brotman 1900 census

Moses Brotman 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: 993; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 0179; FHL microfilm: 1240993

The other thing that struck me as very strange about this report was the fact that Moses had a son named Samuel as did his son Abraham.  In 1900 Moses’ Samuel was ten; Abraham’s was seven.  So Abraham’s son Samuel had an uncle three years older with the same name.  When I turned to the 1910 census report for Moses and his family, that became even stranger, as now Moses had had another child, a son named Joseph, who was seven as of 1910.  Abraham also had a son named Joseph, who was seventeen in 1910. So Abraham’s son Joseph had an uncle Joseph who was ten years younger than he was.  In addition, both Moses and Abraham had daughters named Lilly or Lillian; Moses’ daughter was born in February 1892; Abraham’s daughter was born September 5, 1898. Why would Moses and Abraham have given their children the same names? Perhaps they were named for the same ancestors, but it must have been awfully confusing in Pittsgrove to have two Samuel Brotmans., two Joseph Brotmans, and two Lilly Brotmans running around that small community.  It sure doesn’t help genealogists either.

The 1910 census report for Moses now had his wife’s name as Ida, which was a common Americanization of Chaya.  Moses was now working as a presser in a clothing factory, presumably the one owned by his son Abraham.  As with the 1900 census for Abraham, Moses’ birthplace is now given as Russia, not Austria.  He and Ida had six of their children living with them: Samuel (20), Lilly (15), Isaac (14), Bessie (12), Lewis/Louis (10), and the above-mentioned Joseph (7).  The birthplace for all the children was New Jersey, except for Samuel, whose birthplace was reported as Russia, same as his parents. Sadie and Katie were no longer living with their parents. Unfortunately, I have not yet found any records for what happened to Sadie or Katie, although their father’s obituary revealed their married names and their residence as of 1935 in Philadelphia.

Moses Brotman 1910 census

Moses Brotman 1910 census Year: 1910; Census Place: Pittsgrove, Salem, New Jersey; Roll: T624_908; Page: 15A; Enumeration District: 0154; FHL microfilm: 1374921

It took me forever to track down Moses Brotman and his family on the 1920 census, and although I am not 100% certain this is the right family, I am fairly certain that it is.  The head of household is Morris Brotman, wife Clara—another common Americanization of Chaya.  Morris was reported to be 70 years old, so born around 1850, not far off from his birthdate on the 1900 census.  Birthplace is given as Russia for Morris, Austria for Clara, and it reported that immigrated in 1887, close to the 1886 reported in 1900.  The most convincing support for this being the right family are the names and ages of the children: Lillian (21), Louis (20), Bessie (19), and Joseph (17).  Although Lilly would have been 25 and Bessie 22, the sons’ ages are accurate; maybe they lied about the daughters’ ages to make them appear more “marriageable.”  The family was now living in Philadelphia, not New Jersey, which at first I found odd.

Moses Brotman 1920 US census Year: 1920; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 32, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1634; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 1095; Image: 530

Moses Brotman 1920 US census
Year: 1920; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 32, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: T625_1634; Page: 12B; Enumeration District: 1095; Image: 530

But then I checked for the older sons, Samuel and Isaac (now Irving) and found that both had married between 1910 and 1920 and were living in Philadelphia.  Although I still have not located the two older daughters Sadie and Katie, perhaps they also had married by then and moved to Philadelphia.  Maybe Moses and Ida/Clara/Chaya also moved there to be closer to all their children.

Thus, I now had conflicting birthplaces for Moses—one census said Austria, two said Russia.  I looked at the 1930 census, and once again there was a conflict.  Now Moses’ birthplace was reported as Austria-Hungary, then crossed out with “Europe” written above it. His parents’ birthplace, however, was given as Austria-Hungary.  Moses was now 80 years old, and he and his wife (now Ida again) and their youngest son Joseph (28) were living in Vineland, New Jersey, near Pittsgrove. So as with Abraham, the birthplace for Moses fluctuated back and forth between Russia and Austria with no specific town or city mentioned. Perhaps Moses really did not know where in Europe he was actually born.

Moses Brotman 1930 US census

Moses Brotman 1930 US census Year: 1930; Census Place: Vineland, Cumberland, New Jersey; Roll: 1327; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 0060; Image: 434.0; FHL microfilm: 2341062

Moses died on September 23, 1935.  His death certificate said he was born in Austria in 1847 and that his parents were named Abraham Brotman and Sadie Berstein, also born in Austria.  His grandson Aaron Brotman was the informant, Abraham’s youngest son who would die himself just a few years later.  Moses’ wife’s name was given as Rachel Rice.  This has caused considerable confusion for the family.  Was this a third wife? A mistake?

Moses Brotman death certificate_0001_NEW

In the obituary for Moses, it says he was survived by his widow, but did not name her.  It did, however, name all his children (including the married names for Sadie and Katie, as indicated above) and their residences.

Moses Brotman obituary

Moses Brotman obituary Courtesy of his granddaughter Elaine, source unknown

I found the death certificate for his youngest child, Joseph, who died less than a year after his father on July 26, 1936, from bacterial endocarditis.  He was only 34 years old.  On his death certificate, Moses’ birthplace is once again given as Russia, and Joseph’s mother’s name is reported to be Rachael Rice. The informant was Joseph’s half-brother, Abraham Brotman.

Joseph Brotman (Moses' son) death certificate Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Joseph Brotman (Moses’ son) death certificate
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
Original data: Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906–1963. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Since Moses’ wife on the 1910 census was Ida and since Joseph was born in 1902, it would seem likely that Ida was Joseph’s mother.  Or could Chaya have been Rachel Rice and then died after Joseph was born? Was Ida a third wife? And was she the same woman as Clara, the wife listed on the 1920 census, or was that a fourth wife? My own personal hunch was that Rachel, Chaya, Ida and Clara are all one and the same person.

Although I was able to find the death certificate for Irving Brotman, it had no information for the name of his mother, had his father’s name as Morris, and had no information for their birthplaces.  I was, however, able to find the following entries in the New Jersey, Births and Christening Index on Ancestry.com for two of Moses’ children:

Name: Liza Brotman
Gender: Female
Birth Date: 2 Feb 1892
Birth Place: Pit, Salem, New Jersey
Father’s name: Moritz Brotman
Mother’s name: Chai Reis
FHL Film Number: 494224
Name: Brotman
Gender: Female
Birth Date: 12 May 1897
Birth Place: Pit , Salem, New Jersey
Father’s name: Moses Brotman
Father’s Age: 45
Father’s Birth Place: Austria
Mother’s name: Clara Rice
Mother’s Age: 30
Mother’s Birth Place: Austria
FHL Film Number: 494236

Notice that the mother’s name was Chai Reis on the first, then the more Americanized Clara Rice on the later one.  These were both created before the 1900 census listing of Moses’ wife as Chaya, the 1910 listing as Ida, the 1920 listing as Clara, or the 1930 listing again as Ida.  Notice that the surname is Reis/Rice, the same surname given for Moses’ wife on his death certificate in 1935 and that of his son Joseph in 1936.  I find this last bit of evidence enough to conclude that Rachel Rice was the same woman who married Moses in 1884 or so, immigrated with him and their first two children, and gave birth to and raised nine children from Sadie, born in 1884, through Joseph, born in 1902.  In 1940 after Moses had died, Ida (aka Chaya-Clara-Rachel) was living with her son Lewis/Louis and his wife Jean and their daughter Elaine in Vineland, New Jersey.  According to Elaine, Ida died about three years later.  Unfortunately I have not yet located a death record or obituary for Ida.

Lewis Brotman 1940 US census Year: 1940; Census Place: Vineland, Cumberland, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2327; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 6-76

Lewis/Louis Brotman 1940 US census
Year: 1940; Census Place: Vineland, Cumberland, New Jersey; Roll: T627_2327; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 6-76

Thus, reviewing all the records I had found had not brought me any closer to learning exactly where Moses Brotman or Abraham Brotman had been born or where they had lived in Europe.  But while searching, I stumbled upon something else.  I will report on that as my last post before I leave for my trip.

[1] Relatives of the Brotmanville Brotmans say family lore is that the family was from Preszyml, a town about 90 miles from Tarnobrzeg, Grebow, and Radomysl nad Sanem, the other ancestral towns where possible family members lived. But I have not found any record supporting that family lore.

[2] A few geographical facts are necessary to understand the locations discussed in this post.  Brotmanville is an unincorporated community within the township of Pittsgrove so Pittsgrove is listed on the census records, not Brotmanville.  The colony where Baron de Hirsch and others created the farming settlement for poor Jewish immigrants was called the Alliance Colony. Vineland is a neighboring community where many of the Brotmans lived over the years.

More Gifts from Doing Genealogy: The Gau-Algesheim Seligmanns and New Friends in Germany

As I’ve been researching and writing about my American Seligman relatives, I’ve also been busy trying to learn more about my German ancestors.  I wrote to about five different people in Gau-Algesheim, names I found on websites or through contacts from JewishGen or two Facebook groups, Tracing the Tribe and German Genealogy, including Klaus Cook.  I’d been trying since September 7 to find someone to help me learn whether there were any records of Jewish births, marriages and/or deaths from the town where I knew Sigmund, Bernard and Adolph Seligman were born.  I had gotten no responses—not even one saying that they had no such records.

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim

Coat of arms of Gau-Algesheim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I also contacted a woman named Dorothee Lottman-Kaeseler.  I had found her name on the website describing the restoration of the Gau-Algesheim cemetery, and she did write back to me.  She was very helpful and eventually she managed to find someone to pay attention to my emails.  Imagine my delight when the other morning I woke up to this email:

On behalf of our registrar, Frau Hemmkeppler, I am hereby replying to your genealogy request, which we have received on 15. Oct. 2014 via email. 

At first, please note, that due to age, we do not have any electronic archives of our historical records.  However, we have put in extra efforts and were able to manually trace the following information related to the name of Seligmann: 

Siegesmund Seligmann, DOB: 24. Dec.1829 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 67/1829


Salomon Seligmann, DOB: 15. Mar.1832 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 19/1832


Carolina Seligmann, DOB: 18. Mar.1833 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 25/1833


Benjamin Seligmann, DOB: 10. May 1835 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 36/1835


Bernhard Seligmann, DOB: 23. Nov.1837 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 49/1837


Hyronimus Seligmann, DOB: 14. Dec.1839 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 75/1839


August Seligmann, DOB: 10. Dec.1841 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 88/1841


Adolph Seligmann, DOB: 29. Sep. 1843 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 52/1843


Mathilde Seligmann, DOB: 31. Jan. 1845 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 4/1845


Paulina Seligmann, DOB: 29.01.1847 in Gau-Algesheim, Reg-Nr. 5/1847 

All the beforementioned persons are the children of Moritz and Eva Seligmann (born as Eva Schoenfeld). …. 


B. Brettschneider



There was the birth record of my great-great-grandfather Bernard, his brothers Sigmund and Adolph, and seven other siblings, all born in Gau-Algesheim, all the children of Moritz and Eva Schoenfeld Seligmann.  I was so excited.  I now had seven more relatives to learn about and, most importantly, the names of my great-great-great-grandparents, Moritz Seligmann and Eva Schoenfeld.

I have now been in touch again with Bernie Brettschneider and hope to obtain copies of these records and also to learn if there are any other records of these individuals or of others who might be their children, spouses, and so on.

Gau-Algesheim in MZ

Gau-Algesheim in MZ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am deeply grateful to Klaus Cook and the other people in the Facebook groups and JewishGen, to Dorothee Lottmann-Kaeseler and to Bernie Brettschneider for their assistance, and I am excited to see what else I can learn about this part of my family.  I am also in touch with Walter Nathan, who was the man behind the cemetery restoration in Gau-Algesheim.  Walter and I are trying to find what connections there may be between my Seligmanns and his Seligmann family, and I am learning more and more about how Jews lived in Germany in the 19th century.

When I started down this path less than three years ago, I never imagined how much I would learn about the world and its history by simply researching my own little family. I never imagined I would make contact with people in Germany and Romania and Poland, have cousins all over the world and talk to people whose lives have been so interesting.  The gifts I receive from genealogy continue to surprise me and warm my heart.

And I now am thinking that someday in the not too distant future I will visit Gau-Algesheim and see where my Seligmann ancestors lived.  And Iasi to see where my Goldschlager and Rosenzweig ancestors lived.  And Tarnobrzeg, Poland, to see where my Brotman ancestors lived.  In fact, that last one is being planned for this coming spring.  And then there are all the places right here in the US where I can go to walk in the places where my ancestors lived—New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, Santa Fe, Colorado, and who knows where else?  The adventures continue.



Brotman Ancestral Home: Tarnobrzeg (probably)

While researching my Goldschlager/Rosenzweig relatives, I have also been continuing to work towards an answer to the question

Photograph of Tarnobrzeg Main Square.

Photograph of Tarnobrzeg Main Square. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

of where in Galicia my ancestors Joseph and Bessie Brotman lived.  The discovery of David Brotman, Joseph’s son from his first marriage, provided a new jumpstart to that research because David had listed two different home towns on his documentation: Tarnof on the ship manifest and Grambow on his naturalization papers.  Unfortunately, that information seemed to conflict with what I had from Hyman’s papers—Jeekief and Giga.

After consulting with a few people in the field, my best guess is that the family came from Tarnobrzeg, then called Dzikow.  A town called Grebow or Grybow is close by, and I am wondering whether David was born in Grebow, near Tarnobrzeg, when Joseph was married to Chaye Fortgang, and that Joseph moved to Dzikow/Tarnobrzeg when he married Bessie and when Chaim/Hyman was born.  It’s a guess, but it’s the best I think I will be able to do, given the unreliability of the US records and our ancestors’ memories.

Having decided to make the assumption that Tarnobrzeg was the Brotman ancestral home, I then again researched the available resources online such as JRIPoland, Gesher Galicia, and JewishGen, to see if there were any records that might be relevant, adding the surname Fortgang to my search since that is what David’s death certificate said had been his mother Chaye’s maiden name.  I could not find any, and then I checked to see what records were even available in general for Tarnobrzeg. 

I wrote to Stanley Diamond, the creator of JRI-Poland, and this is what he informed me: “Among all the towns listed [on JRI-Poland], Tarnobrzeg is the one with the fewest surviving records.  They are the 1889-1911 births that are in the Polish State Archive branch in Sandomierz (for which we now have digital images) and the 1912-1937 birth records in the town hall in Tarnobrzeg.”  Obviously, all of those records are too late for our family as the last child born in Galicia was Tillie in 1884. Just our luck—our relatives had to come from the place with the fewest surviving records.

Stanley told me not to give up all hope—that new records are sometimes discovered over time.  And I will certainly keep renewing my search periodically, hoping that something does turn up.  But for now, I think I have to accept the limitations of our ability to learn everything about our past.

So am I content with this? No, of course not.  It’s particularly frustrating because it means I cannot go back any earlier than Joseph, Bessie and Chaye to find our earlier ancestors. I think that I can learn to be comfortable saying that my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman probably came from the Tarnobrzeg region of Galicia.  That’s much better than what I could say last summer when I really started digging for answers.  But being even 99% sure is not the same as knowing for certain, and I am not even close to 99% sure.

For those who are interested, here are two websites about Tarnobrzeg, the town where my great-grandparents Joseph and Bessie Brotman probably lived.

Poland, Tarnobrzeg - Museum of City History, p...

Poland, Tarnobrzeg – Museum of City History, placed in old granary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ShtetlLinks page

Gesher Galicia page

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my family and friends and followers and readers from all over! I can’t believe I’ve had readers from not only the United States, but Canada, Great Britain, Germany, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Sweden, Turkey, Ireland, Greece, Australia, Russia, Poland, and Israel.  Thanks to all of you for stopping by, whether you have been here once or many times.  May 2014 bring everyone peace, happiness, and good health.

I am grateful to you all for your support and your readership, and I look forward to making new discoveries and new connections in the year ahead.  I hope to learn more both from my relatives and from my fellow genealogy bloggers and others about genealogy, my family, and myself.


Research update: Bad News, Good News, Bad News

As you may recall, on October 31, I sent a request to the USCIS  for the naturalization papers for Max Brotman in the hope that they would reveal where Max and thus the other family members were born in Galicia.  According to the automated message on the USCIS phone, it could take at least 90 days to get a response.  Well, I figured the news wasn’t going to be good when I received a response yesterday only 35 days after making my request.  And it wasn’t—they had no records for a Max Brotman who fit the dates I had submitted.  In fact, all their naturalization records start in 1906, and I should have known that Max was naturalized before 1906 since he was the witness for Abraham in 1904.

I then went back to ancestry.com and rechecked my search of their naturalization records where I had been able to find records for both Abraham and Hyman.  I checked and rechecked pages and pages of indices, searching for anything that might relate.  I found one for a Max Bratman born in Germany who worked as a conductor for the railroad and emigrated in 1882, but dismissed it because the name, place of birth, and date of immigration seemed wrong.

Max "Bratman" Naturalization Card

Max “Bratman” Naturalization Card

Then I went back to the records I already have for Max, including several census reports, his marriage certificate and his death certificate.  While reading through the 1900 census, I noticed that it said Max was a conductor.  At that time he and Sophie were just married (the census was taken in June; they had married in April) and were living at 113 East 100th Street in Manhattan.  When I saw the entry that he was a conductor, I knew it rang a bell, but at that point I could not remember where else I had seen it.

1900 US Census Report for Max and Sophie Brotman

1900 US Census Report for Max and Sophie Brotman

I began to search through the naturalization records again and could not find any reference to a Max Brotman who was a conductor.  I started thinking that I was losing my mind! Then I remembered that there had been a Max BrAtman and searched for him, and lo and behold, found the naturalization card again for the conductor.  I looked at the address on that form and sure enough, Max Bratman was living at 113 East 100th Street in Manhattan in 1900 when he filed this application.  Obviously this was the same person, our Max, but why did he spell his name wrong? Why did he say he was born in Germany and emigrated in 1882? The birth dates also did not exactly line up, but I am used to the fact that no one ever reported their birthday consistently.

When I looked at the handwritten application, I saw that the signature was definitely Max BrOtman, not BrAtman.

Max Brotman naturalization petition

Max Brotman naturalization petition

My guess is that the clerk who filled out the card just could not decipher the handwriting.  As for the wrong date, I have no guess except that Max was confused, wasn’t clear, or was trying to make it seem he’d been in the US for more than just 12 years.  As for why Germany? I wish I knew.  I know from Joseph Margoshes’ book that secularized, modern Jews were referred to as “German” in Galicia. Perhaps that’s why Max said Germany.  Perhaps the clerk thought he was German because of his name, accent and use of Yiddish and suggested it to him and Max just agreed? I have no clue.

The census form was filled out just a month earlier than the naturalization form.  The census says his place of birth was Austria as does every other document listing Max’s place of birth.  The census says he emigrated in 1888, which is also consistent with almost all the other forms.  It would have made little sense for Max to have emigrated in 1882 when he was only four years old.  So once again, we have evidence that forms are unreliable, that our ancestors were not too reliable, and that much must be left to conjecture and speculation.

So where does that leave us in terms of identifying where our family lived in Galicia? Hanging on the thin thread of Hyman’s own unreliable documents, our best guess is Dzikow near Tarnobrzeg.  I contacted Stanley Diamond who manages the archives of documents for JRI-Poland, and he sent me a list of all the records of all Brotmans and Brots from that area.  They are almost all of people born after 1900, and Stanley said that the records for that area are rather limited.  He said it would probably take a trip to archives in a few cities in Poland to learn if there is anything else and that that is probably a long shot.

And thus, my cousins and friends, I think that for now I have hit a wall. I am still waiting for Tillie’s death certificate and Hyman’s marriage certificate, but I am not putting any hope into finding out more information about their place of birth from those documents. I am in touch with a researcher in Poland, and I am hoping to travel there perhaps in 2015, but for now I guess we have to accept that the best we can do is hang our hopes on Hyman’s references to Jeekief and Giga and assume that Dzikow near Tarnobrzeg is our ancestral home.

A World Apart, part 5: Relationships between Jews and non-Jews in Galicia

My reading this time related largely to the relationships between the Jews and non-Jews in Galicia, socially, politically and otherwise.  Margoshes began this section by claiming that at least in the region where he lived near Radomishla, the Jews were economically and politically often more powerful than most of the non-Jewish population.   I would never have expected that at all; I assumed that the Jews were oppressed politically and economically.  Instead, Margoshes asserted that in area from Rzeslow to Tarnow to Krakow, the peasants lived under the dominance of the Jewish estate holders.  He wrote, “During the period between the 1880s and [World War I], this part of Galicia was a true paradise for Jews in some respects.” (p. 99; emphasis added)

According to Margoshes, in this region, anti-Jewish persecution and acts were unknown, and Jews and gentiles lived peacefully together.  If a peasant struck or even just insulted a Jew, the courts would punish the peasant by placing him in jail for at least two days.  Peasants would tip their hats to Jewish estate-holders when they were driving (oxen or horses, I assume) on the road and when they entered their homes.  (There is no mention of how the peasants treated and were treated by poor Jews, just the wealthier Jews, who in many instances were the employers of these peasants.)

Margoshes explains the political context for this by pointing out that in 1846 there had been a widespread revolt of the peasants against the wealthy Polish lords and landholders and that even forty years later, the politically powerful Polish aristocracy which controlled the government had not forgiven the peasants for the violence, deaths and damages caused by that uprising.  Thus, in a dispute between a peasant and a Jew, the government would generally side with the Jew.

Margoshes also attributed much of the peacefulness of the region to the Austro-Hungarian gendarmes who were responsible for keeping law and order in the Empire as part of the imperial army.  These soldiers lived in the area in barracks and frequently visited the estates to insure that all animals were registered and that everything was being managed according to the requirements of the Empire.

That did not mean that there were no disputes or problems between the peasants and their Jewish employers.  Margoshes described a number of incidents of theft by the peasants who worked at his father-in-law’s estate.  He wrote, “A Jewish estate-holder and his household had to have eyes in the back of their heads in order to make sure that the workers were not stealing from him….” (p. 127).  He also made the offensive generalization that it was part of the “inborn nature” of the peasants to steal: “he had to steal whenever the opportunity presented itself, especially from the Jewish estate-holder.  For a peasant, the smallest stolen article was an asset.”

In one story about the workers at his father-in-law’s estate in Zgursk, moreoever, Margoshes also revealed that the relationships between the Polish peasants who worked on the estate and their Jewish employers were not always quite so amicable.  There were at times hundreds of workers on the estate, and many of them boarded there.  Margoshes himself admits that their living conditions were substandard: “everyone found a place to sleep in one of the three stables atop hay and straw and that was it.  No pillows or sleepwear were provided and…a blanket used to cover horses served as a cover.” (p. 96) The estate did provide three meals a day that Margoshes described as generous.   Margoshes’ mother-in-law and father-in-law were the task masters who oversaw all the work on the estate, and his father-in-law was known to be rather cold and strict.

Margoshes described one time that his father-in-law lost his temper with some of the workers who in his view were not working hard enough and began beating them with a paddle.  In response, these workers and a number of others went on strike and refused to return to the fields. It took an intervention from the mother of the father-in-law to persuade the workers to return to work the next day.  Margoshes described this as if it were a one-time incident, and perhaps it was, but it does reveal that there was some abuse of the peasants by at least this powerful Jew, his own father-in-law.

Thus, although Margoshes initially described the relationship between the gentile peasants and the Jews as peaceful and amicable, these incidents of theft and abusiveness suggest that there was in fact a great deal of resentment and anger among the peasants towards the Jews. Perhaps he was deluding himself when he wrote that it was a “true paradise” for Jews in this region during that time.

According to Margoshes, the wealthy Jews also had good relationships with the wealthy Polish lords and landowners, called pritsim or porits in the singular.  He described his relationship with a neighboring porits  as “very friendly, although from a distance.” (p. 103) They would help each other out with favors, but were not social friends.  Margoshes did not think that this relationship was unusual.  He said that he “never heard of a case in the entire region of a porits who had negative relations with a Jew or where he insulted a Jew or harmed him in any way,” (p. 104) although he did then go on to mention one polits who refused to trade with Jews.

There was also, according to Margoshes, peaceful co-existence between the Catholic priests and the Jewish population.  Although he commented that “[p]riests, especially Catholic priests, cannot ever really be friends of the Jews” because “it is almost against [their]religion to love people of another faith,” (p.111), he reported that nevertheless for the most part there was little conflict between the priests and the Jewish estate holders.  He described a church law that prohibited Catholics from working as servants in Jewish homes, but pointed out that it was rarely enforced since the peasants needed employment and often worked in Jewish homes. Margoshes even developed a friendship with one of the local priests, but he severed that relationship when the priest tried to persuade Margoshes to come and see his church—not to convert, but just to go inside the church.  Obviously, this “friendship” was a superficial one based on necessity, and feelings of distrust and difference outweighed any sense of real connection.  Margoshes made it clear that it would not have been acceptable for him, as a Jew, to be seen in a Catholic church.

By the time I finished reading this section, I realized that Margoshes had had a very unrealistic view of the relationships between the Jews and non-Jews in Galicia during the late 19th century.  First, his viewpoint is entirely based on the experiences of the wealthy Jewish estate-holders.  The non-Jewish peasants may have seemed respectful and accepting of their Jewish employers, but beneath the surface there was likely a great deal of resentment and anger.  The priests and non-Jewish estate-holders also may have been willing to live peacefully side-by-side with the wealthy Jews, but there certainly was not a true acceptance or friendship in these relationships.  The gendarmes may have been keeping the peace, but beneath the surface the Jews were still the outsiders who were not integrated into the gentile world.

Moreover, Margoshes does not at all provide a picture of what life was like for the Jews who were not wealthy estate-holders.  Were their relationships with the peasants, priests, and wealthy Polish landowners as “peaceful”?  Or were they the targets of all the repressed resentment and anger that the gentiles felt towards the wealthy Jews?

It occurred to me after reading these chapters that Margoshes was writing in 1936.  He had no idea what was going to happen in Poland during the Holocaust. I wonder whether his naiveté about how the gentiles felt about the Jews was widespread in Poland during the 1930s and 1940s.  If only they had been more realistic, perhaps more of them would have left sooner.

Which brings me to another question: if things were so great in the 1880s and 1890s for wealthy Jews in Poland, why did Margoshes and so many others, including Joseph and Bessie, leave?