Monday, January 20, 2014

Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, 2012 (a graphic novel)

"The book is a sweetly sad story, illustrating the difficulty of life in the early 20th century as seen through the narrow eye of a specific subculture." from a review in City Paper by Laura Dattaro 3/28/12

This graphic novel, whose dedication page says “For New York,” dramatizes the lives of twin sisters with chapters marked by dates that denote significant moments in the lives of the sisters. The first, 1905, introduces us to Esther and Fanya, and their family, residents of the Lower East Side. In the last chapter, 1923, they are still in New York, and although their paths had diverged, they reconnect.

It is easy to see why the author has dedicated this graphic novel to New York. She sketches the intensity of life in the streets and life behind closed doors. She does not romanticize the lives of early immigrants. She catches both the turmoil in the crowded streets with their pushcart markets, and the turmoil of tenement homes where the children often slept two to a bed and where babies were born at home. She has scenes in houses of prostitution and in theaters where burlesque shows were performed.

Her immigrants, who speak in Yiddishized “broken” English and sometimes speak in Yiddish, are all struggling, trying to find a way to survive. She builds her story around many of the problems they encountered: poverty, adultery, arranged marriages, illegal abortions, out- of-wedlock children, and religious, ethnic and class bias. Constructing different lives for the two sisters illustrates the possibilities and the pitfalls they both encountered.

This graphic novel is a useful introduction to Jewish immigrant life in New York in the early twentieth century, a place and time to which many in the American Jewish community can trace their roots.

To read about the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, click here.
To read about the Eldridge St. Synagogue, now a museum, click here.
To read an interview with the author, click here.

Leela Corman - married to Tom Hart; author
Gene, Lizette and David Corman - relationship to author unclear

New York City, New York
Gainsville, Florida

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Secrets of the Notebook by Eve Haas

"[I]f you like history and enjoy finding out how difficult it actually is to discover the truth about your past, this is a good book to read." from a review posted by a reader on the Goodreads website

When Eve Jaretzki Haas and her family, Jewish refugees from Germany, were living in England during World War II, her father showed her a small, very old book that had been in the possession of her great-great grandmother. He told her that her great-great grandmother, Emilie Gottschalk, had been married to a Prussian prince. He also told her that she would inherit the book, but it didn’t actually come into her possession until many years later after both of her parents had died.

This memoir is about a very interesting family history that the author uncovered after many years of research and travel. The first problem, when she started her serious inquiries in the early 1970’s, was that she was told that the records relating to the Prussian Hohenzollern family would be in the East German archives where it was dangerous to travel and she was advised that bureaucrats there would stand in the way of her research. She was persistent and gained entry, but many other problems familiar to genealogists surfaced. She found information that did not fit into the vague outlines of the family story she had been told by family members, and often information she uncovered didn’t seem to fit with other facts she came across. The story became more and more puzzling.

After many years of searching she succeeded in putting the pieces together and coming up with a more than plausible family narrative for many reasons: she was persistent, she got more and more knowledgeable and experienced as the search progressed, she kept studying the documents she had - looking for more clues, she kept going back to family members with new questions, and she won over archivists who were intrigued with her story and became eager to help her. It also didn’t hurt that both she and her husband spoke and read German so that she was able to scrutinize primary sources.

All in all, this memoir can serve as an inspiration to amateur genealogists. The author had a daunting task ahead of her and could have easily given up. It is interesting to follow both her progress and lack of progress – the brick walls she encountered and how she worked around them and through them which included constructing theories that did not always bear fruit. But because of all her work eventually she succeeded in uncovering lots of information and reconstructing her lineage and a narrative that explains the documents she found.

Click here to read about the history of the Kingdom of Prussia.

Emilie von Ostrowska – married to Prince August (Hohenzollern) of Prussia
     Charlotte von Ostrowska (Gottschalk) – daughter of Emilie and Prince August; married Sigmund Baumann
           Anna Baumann – married Samuel Jaretzki
                Hans Jaretzki - son of Anna and Samuel; married to Margarethe Jacoby
                      Claude Jaretzki – son of Hans and Margarethe; married to Inge
                      Eve Jaretzki – daughter of Hans and Margarethe; married to Ken Haas; author
                             Anthony, Timothy, and David Haas – sons of Eve and Ken
                Freddy Jaretzki – son of Anna and Samuel; married to Lotte ; second marriage to Alice
                     Marlies Jaretzki – daughter of Freddy

Frank Jarett (Jaretzki) – relative of author; exact relationship not clear
       Norman Jarett – son of Frank
Thomas Jarrett – married to Doris; cousin - exact relationship not clear
Alex Jarret – married to Pat; cousin – exact relationship not clear
Fridl Jacoby – sister of Margarethe

Friends and Acquaintances
Meno Burg
Isadore Gottschalk

Berlin, Germany
Wannslee, Berlin, Germany
Charlottenburg, Germany
Breslau, Poland
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Reichenberg, Czechoslovakia