I happen to live in the general vicinity of where Lewis and Clark set forth on their “corps of discovery” up to the Missouri headwaters back in the early 1800s. Today I want to tell you about my own discovery voyage that I begin today, to visit my mother’s ancestral grounds in northeast Poland with my sister.
I first thought about this trip several years ago when I came across a distant cousin living in Tel Aviv. Cousin Ori had mapped out my entire maternal family tree on Geni.com, spending countless hours tracking down relatives going back into the 1800s. At the time that we were first introduced, I had no idea that he even existed. But I am grateful for his efforts, especially in re-kindling this quest that I am on this week.
My grandfather came to the States about 100 years ago, and lucky for him he did. Almost all of his contemporaries perished in the Holocaust, including his father. They came from a small Polish town called Zambrow (also spelled Zembrov and other combinations as well) of a few thousand people. That is where my sister and I are headed, along with seeing the larger cities of Poland too. So consider this my first report of my travels.
I am lucky that I am going now when it is relatively easy to do online research and find out things such as tourist sites, maps, train schedules, reservations for AirBnBs, and the like. The more I did the research, the more excited I have gotten about our trip. Right now I am just trying to manage my expectations.
But there was plenty to find online to whet my discovery appetite. For example, here is a brochure for Jewish sites in and around Bialystok, one of the places we are visiting.
For those who are interested, many of the smaller European towns which had significant losses during WWII produced these hard-copy memory books that documented all of those who once lived there. Here is the history of these books, and the community associations that created them called landsmanshafts.
The book for Zambrow can be found here, and right on p. 167 is my relative, Shabtai or Shepsl Kramarsky, who was a rabbinic judge 100 years ago. When my grandfather came to the States, he shortened his last name to Kramer, which was very common as the Ellis Island authorities had long lines of people and not much patience with all those syllables.
One of the things I love about Jewish geography is how small a world it really is. In addition to finding cousin Ori, one of my most faithful readers is Hank Mishkoff, who visited Zambrow almost 20 years ago and posted his travels here. He is putting me in touch with some folks that he knows in Poland, and we’ll see what happens!