Monday, March 1, 2010

The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn 2006

Winner of the National Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award; translated into many foreign languages; made many best-seller lists in the United States and Europe

Daniel Mendelsohn, a grandson of an immigrant from the Polish town of Bolechow (currently Bolekhiv in Ukraine), where his family had lived for 300 years, seeks to learn as much as he can about the fate of his grandfather’s brother and family who lived in Bolechow and were killed during WWII. The author, who has a PhD in the classics and is a journalist and literary critic, uses his great literary skills to create this vivid, riveting memoir.

Mendelsohn, born in 1960, became interested in family history as a youngster, primarily because of his grandfather’s stories about the lost world of Bolechow. He started his research before the internet became a common tool, then gravitated to the internet. He traveled to many countries, interviewing the last surviving Bolechowers, and went to Bolechow more than once to interview surviving Poles and Ukrainians. The memoir is a piecing together of a fascinating, heart-breaking story.

This memoir can be seen as a case study: the systematic destruction of the Jewish residents of Bolechow is a stand-in for many such Eastern European towns and their Jewish residents. It’s also a significant case study in the process of genealogical research. It is not a specific how-to, but rather the record of a process that required dedication, preparation, curiosity, resourcefulness and collaboration. Mendelsohn does not spend a lot of time discussing his early research. He mostly deals with his travels: who and what he finds, what they say and show him, and what sense he makes of what he sees and hears.

Finally, it is the story of today: The memoir reveals how the legacy of the Holocaust lives on in the lives of those who survived and their descendants.

Includes a Jager family tree and photos taken by the author’s brother Matthew who is a professional photographer and traveled with him.

The author’s Jager family tree (his mother’s family), includes the family of Shmiel Jager, the author’s maternal grandfather’s brother, who along with his wife and four children, perished in the Holocaust (the six lost referred to in the title).
The family names on the tree are: Jager (Jaeger, Yager, Yaeger), Kornbluth, Mittelmark, Schneelicht, Rechtschaffen, Konig, Beispiel, Cushman, Mendelsohn.

Other family names: Erlich, Katz, Spieler.
Family names from Latvia: Beleiter, Hauser, Seinfeld

Others from Bolechow:
Survivors who immigrated to Australia:
Jack Greene (former Grunschlag) and his brother Bob Grunschlag,
Boris Goldsmith
Meg Ellenbogen Grossbard and her brother-in-law Salamon Grossbard

Survivors who immigrated to Israel
Shlomo Adler and his wife Ester
Josef Adler, a cousin of Shlomo and his wife Ilana
Solomon (Shumek) and Malcia Reinharz

Other survivors:
Jakob and Klara Schoenfeld Freilich who immigrated to Stockholm
Anna (Klara) Heller Stern who immigrated to Argentina, then Israel
Adam (Bumo) Kulberg who immigrated to Copenhagen; and his wife Sofia
Eli Rosenberg who immigrated to NY

Other residents of Belechow mentioned:
? Zwiebel – Anna Heller’s mother’s brother
Pepci Diamant – perished
Dusia Zimmerman
Yulek Zimmerman – Dusia’s brother; shot
Dunka Schwartz
Gedalje Grunschlag – Jack and Bob’s brother; perished
Dovcie Ehrmann – uncle to Grunschlag brothers - shot
Lonek Ellenbogen – Meg Grossbard’s brother; shot
Bumo Halpern
? Gartenberg – shot
Mundzio Artman
Yetta Durst
Shymek Samuel
Ignacy Taub
Dyzia Lew – survivor
Naphtali Krauthammer
Josef Feuer - survivor; called last Jew of Strvj

The author includes a translation of testimony from 1946 filed at Yad Vashem given by a Rebeka Mondschein that describes the 1st Aktion in Bolechow. Some names are included. He also includes testimony given in 1946 by a Matylda Gelernter describing the 2nd Aktion where some names are also included.

First Bolechower Sick Benevolent Association, Mt. Judah Cemetery, Queens, NY
Bolechow, Poland (Bolekhiv, Ukraine)
Stryj – town close to Bolechow

To read more about The Lost, to read an excerpt, to see some family pictures, or to hear an interview with Daniel Mendelsohn on NPR's Fresh Air conducted by Terry Gross, click here.

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