The other night, I started thinking about how I wanted to honor my family members for International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Before I started researching my family, I had no names of relatives who perished in the Holocaust. I didn't even know I had any. Now, I know too many who were murdered by the Nazis and their associates.
Among my favorite trophies as a genealogist are photographs, especially photographs of Holocaust victims, so that their memories can live on. I have a running list of ancestral photos I would like to locate, but at the very top have been those in my great-grandfather's immediate family.
Abraham J. Berson, my great-grandfather, immigrated to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. My great-grandmother, great-uncle, and great-aunt followed after. When he left, he left behind his half-siblings, Shlomo Yitzchak Berzak and Alte Sarah (Berzak) Pats, and the families they would create. He also left behind his stepmother, Devora, who had helped raise him since his own mother died when he and his brother, Moshe Leib, were young.
All the descendants of Devora remained in Lithuania except for Shlomo Yitzchak's daughter, Chaya (Berzak) Arad who immigrated to Mandate Palestine in the 1930s. Because she left, she survived. Her parents, grandmother, sister, aunt, and their families were among the estimated 90% of Lithuanian Jews who perished in the Holocaust. She is the source of much of our family's memories, having written a short family memoir, sharing family stories with her descendants and my branches of the family, and providing witness testimonials to Yad Vashem.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore tells Harry, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.” On a whim before bed, I decided to email a cousin who has been a major source of family history, including providing me with Chaya's memoir and other important information. I quickly wrote, "Did Chaya have any photos of her parents? Her sister? Anything she brought over from Lithuania? Do we know anyone who might know this?" and went to sleep. When I checked my email in the morning, I had an email waiting for me from this cousin, detailing a conversation she'd had with Chaya's granddaughter that morning and asking me for my WhatsApp information, which I provided immediately.
My phone quickly buzzed and right there was a photo of Devora. The tears came immediately. Shlomo Yitzchak followed, and his wife Etel. I now have faces to add to the names, and I will always remember.