EEH's specialty is conducting hands-on probate genealogical research in the former Soviet Bloc. We go there personally to get the job done. The Bloc consisted of 19 countries:
Latvia is one of the Soviet Bloc countries. The 20th Century history of Latvia, like all Soviet Bloc countries, shows great upheaval and displacement of the population. By 1800 Latvia had been annexed by expansionist Russia. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Latvia declared its independence, and, after a confused period of fighting, the new nation was recognized by Soviet Russia and Germany in 1920.
Independent Latvia was governed by democratic coalitions until 1937 when Latvia was forced to grant military bases on its soil to the Soviet Union, and in 1940 the Red Army moved into Latvia, which was soon incorporated into the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany held Latvia from 1941 to 1944.
In 1944 Latvia was retaken by the Red Army. Latvia's farms and industry were forcibly collectivized in 1949, and its economy was integrated into the USSR.
In the first year of Soviet occupation, about 75,000 Latvians were deported to Russia. About 300,000 Latvians fled to Sweden and Germany before the arrival of Soviet forces.
The first postwar decade proved particularly difficult. Several waves of mass deportation to northern Russia and Siberia--altogether involving at least 280,000 people--occurred, most notably in 1949 in connection with a campaign to collectivize agriculture. Large-scale immigration into Latvia from Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union began and continued throughout the postwar period. In just over 40 years the proportion of Latvians in the population dropped from roughly three-fourths to little more than one-half.
The reason E. European cases are so often unsolved is that many people were sent to distant foreign labour camps or prison camps, or were forced to migrate from their homes because their homes or cities were destroyed, or were confiscated by the enemy, or collectivized by the Soviet system. Stalin moved over 100 million people to random parts of the USSR to destroy town and village communities. He wanted to break up the communities because he feared they would have the strength to oppose him. Hitler stole millions of homes, farms, & shops from conquered Poles, Czechoslovakians, Russians, etc., and gave these properties to Germans to settle conquered areas.
All of the above upheaval in the Soviet Bloc resulted in large numbers of displaced refugees and immigrants. Families were broken up. Brothers didn't know where their sisters had gone; children never learned whether their parents survived.
Finding the different branches of a family is difficult. Pre-1990 birth and death records in the the archives of the former Soviet Bloc countries are scattered among random archives, sectors, and fonds. Births and deaths and are not alphabetically indexed by name nor consolidated by province, as they are in Western Europe.
Old Documents from Clients
Whether you're an unknown heir or someone trying to learn something about deceased relative(s), you never pay EEH or its associate any money, regardless of the outcome of the case. But there is one thing we and our associate genealogists do sometimes need from our clients. Example: If your deceased grandfather's name is common, such as Alexander JOHNSON or Joseph LEVY, and the genealogical documents we have found do not satisfy the ministry official, bank, or magistrate that said Joseph LEVY is the same Joseph LEVY who's brother owned the assets, then we may ask you if your family has additional documents to help prove it. These could be documents showing that Joseph's date of birth or town of birth matches the Joseph in question.
Please note that we never request current documents, such as your driver's license or bank cards. These are confidential to you, and they wouldn't help us anyway because what we want is the old information. Your grandfather's address in 1950 may help us find where he divorced, and the divorce file will have the names and ages of his children, proving to the magistrate that he was indeed the father of your mother.
If such old proofs are needed, we may ask you to please go through all your family's attics, basements, garages, etc. Don't forget to check places owned by in-laws and step-relatives. For example, if you had a widowed aunt who never had children and is now deceased , her old papers may have gone to her step-children and are sitting in a storage unit. Please believe we and our associate genealogical research companies have lost a number of cases because magistrates etc would not accept our proof packets because proofs for certain of the family links were insufficient.
We don't need most typical "hoarder" items, such as old newspapers and magazines, but look for anything that is signed, anything with a date of birth or an address, and anything with a rubber stamp or paper tax stamps (they look like postage stamps). I'm sure you can distinguish the papers having information from the junk mail, old crossword puzzles, etc. If the aunt saved old utility bills, we need only the first and last bill for each address. We need her addresses to identify others living at the same address who may be related.
↑ Bundesrepublik Deutschland Personalausweis Buch
Republic of Germany Personal Identification Book (West Germany)
↑ Deutsche Demokratische Republik Ausweiss Buch
German Democratic Republic Identification Book (East Germany)
Pictured above are examples of pre-1990 German passports. Most people keep their expired passports as mementos of their travels. Be sure not to let them slide inside or between all those old newspapers and be lost!
Also do not miss small things such as calendar books, address books, and pocket note-books; most people always carried these in their pockets or purses, in the days prior to cell phones. The names & contact information of their friends & relatives etc. were not recorded electronically, but with pen & paper.
↑ Old address book -- Everybody had one,
and maybe even kept a couple old ones from prior years containing outdated addresses & information on deceased persons.
Being a "packrat" or a "hoarder" can be quite useful!
If your grandfather lived in East Germany prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, he would have had an Ausweis (ID) with the sexton's symbol of the E. Ger. government (2nd photo above). Inside this little blue book would be his photo, date & town of birth, etc. Not just his country of birth, but the town. This is very important information for us, so please look carefully for such documents!
One of the best finds is a family bible, for it was quite common in the past to keep a record of births, marriages, and deaths in designated pages at the front of bibles. In modern times, births are announced on Facebook, with colour photos, but in past decades the information was written in family bibles. These were permanent records; people didn't throw things out because they were a little shabby or outdated, as they do today. This was the age before consumerism and over-consumption. Small money was important to people. They passed the old bibles down to their children and grandchildren, reverently. If necessary they glued a strip of cloth on the binding.
Here is a typical page of births from an American family bible:
↑ EEH often uses bibles as legally accepted
proofs of family relationships
↑ Many people kept old letters because they were dear to them, and required little space to keep. Old letters can be a treasure trove of genealogical information and proofs.
↑ This postcard was saved because the writer soon perished in the War. His sister kept it in her dresser drawer for over 50 years until her death. Written from German occupied Poland from a son to his father, the first half of the address is in German and the rest of the card is in Ukrainian. Found under a toaster in an old storage box, this little card meant the difference between obtaining the inheritance and not obtaining it, for it was the only evidence showing the name of the son's father.
Please find out which of Grandma's grandchildren has her old papers, passports, address books, bibles, and letters.
Letter from an Heir Client
Lieber Herr James Hannum: 20. Dez 2017
Ich hoffe, daß Sie in Ordnung sind. Ich schreibe Ihnen von unsern ganzen Familie, um Euch sehr zu Danken, für den Erhalt dieser unerwartete Erbschaft! Wir sind gestern gerade nach Hause angekommen von unserer grossen Reise. Anbei ein Foto von meiner Eltern in Hawaii. Ich und meine Schwester Liesel und ihr Mann sind im Hintergrund unter den großen Regenschirm. Das war unser Lieblingsanschlag, es war fur eine woche! Unsere Eltern erfreuten sich lieber an Australien.
Ich schreibe Ihnen auf Deutsch, weil mein Englisch schrecklich ist, u. ich weiß, Sie haben keine Serbokroatisch. Bitte entschuldigen Sie meine Fehler, Ich lernte es nur von meiner Großeltern als
kinder. Meine Mutter bat mir zu erzahlen: sie bedauert, daß sie ungern zu glauben Euch im Anfang war, als du ins unsern Haus
besuchten; dann Ihre Geduld war sehr geschätzt. Als Sie wissen, wir waren die einzigen Linie der Familie in Jugoslawien nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg verbleibend.
Es war schwierig für Sie uns zu finden, und als mein Vater meinen Mutter den Vertrag zu unterzeichnen verbot, könnten Sie leicht uns aus von dem Erbschaft verlassen haben. (Später machte Vater viele Trinksprüche an euch, in Kneipen rund um die Welt!)
Wir hatten uns nie zu träumen erlaubten, daß so etwas könnte in unserer Familie geschehen. Es hat uns erlaubt, die Gleichgewicht von dem Haus-Hypothek meiner Eltern auszahlen, und diesen großen Dampferreise rund um die Welt zu machen, dass von Mama u. Vati ihren großen Ziel seit vielen Jahren zu machen war.
Danke, wunderbaren Menschen der Gesellschaft Europäische Auswanderer Erbe! U. auch danke an [Ihren Mitarbeiter in Wien], das Haus zu finden haben.
Ursula Schäfer, für die ganze Familie Schäfer
Lithuania is another of the 19 Soviet Bloc countries. The below beautiful account from the Telshe Yizkor Book informs why so many refugees left Lithuania during the War and the years following:
...She came to notice in the ghetto when, on Rosh Hashanah, Jews gathered for holiday prayers at the old synagogue where there were almost no prayer books, and almost no one who could serve as cantor or prayer leader. Everyone waited. Suddenly, a tranquil voice was heard, and before the ark stood a teenaged girl who recited the prayers from memory, passage after passage.
“The ‘Korczak’ of the Telshe Ghetto” from the Yizkor book of that town in Lithuania tells the stirring story of Tova-Golda Amlan from the little town of Kvėdarna whose people had suffered mightily under the Nazis. A girl who “was like an angel to everyone. Twenty-four hours a day she was busy helping others.” The reference in the title of this chapter was to Janusz Korczak, who ran an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation and refused offers of sanctuary in order to remain with the orphans under his care, even when they were deported in 1942 to Treblinka, where they all perished.
Tova-Golda became like a mother to the suffering children of the ghetto, their plight made worse by a diptheria outbreak. And like Korczak, she refused to leave them even as the day of liquidation approached.
The men met their deaths at the beginning of the Second World War. The women were told that they [the men] had been sent to Germany for work; but the “birds of the heavens” brought the terrible news to the survivors that they would never again see their loved ones. All that were left were families mourning [their men] – fathers, sons, and brothers. Shoah!
The ghetto of Telshe was in the worst part of the city. Most of the people lived in rickety, dilapidated houses, without windows, in sheep pens and in stables, amid the mustiness, cold, and filth.
The holiday of Rosh Hashanah arrived. The survivors [of those who had been murdered] – mostly women – gathered for holiday prayers at the old synagogue, which is located in that part of the city. There were almost no prayer books, and almost no one who could serve as cantor or prayer leader.
Everyone waited… and then, suddenly, a tranquil voice was heard: “Barchu es Adonai hamevo'rach…” and the congregants responded: “Baruch Adonai hamevo'rach le'olam va'ed”… Before the ark stood a teenaged girl who recited the prayers from memory, passage after passage, liturgical poem after liturgical poem, in a trope that accorded with that holiday, just like a real chazzan and the crowd joined in and followed her lead. The young girl even blew the shofar; she gripped it according to the proper fashion for holding the shofar and blew the various types of shofar blast: “tekiyah”… “sh'varim”…”teru'ah”…as would a master shofar blower who sounds the shofar truly and accurately. She also read the parashat hashavu'a brilliantly.
Who was this girl?
They called her Tova-Golda Amlan, and she was born in the town of Kvėdarna. After most of the Jews of that small town were liquidated, the Lithuanians moved the young ones into ghettos within the [various] cities of the district, and that's how Tova-Golda found herself, after much wandering and great suffering, in the Geruliai Woods, not far from Telshe.
One night the murderers took all of the women from the stable into which they had placed them all several days earlier, and stood them all in the middle of the courtyard and began to sort them out–the selection [process]: older women with children on one side; younger women on the other side. They grouped the young women in rows of four and marched them off. To where? No one knew whether it was to be to live or to die. …and among the younger ones was Tova-Golda. Eyewitness survivors of the Shoah tell that she marched with a Torah scroll in her hands. They marched the [young women] over the freshly dug graves of Jews who had been murdered the previous day. That's how they arrived at the Telshe Ghetto. The entire day they brought groups of Jews to the ghetto from the smaller townships, one Shoah survivor, Bat-Sheva Schwartz recounts.
One day, the ghetto's barn-like door was opened and they pushed in a group of Jews from the township of Kvėdarna – people who were starved, exhausted, and tortured. Tova-Golda appeared to encourage the miserable souls. In her face shone [the light of] a corona, and the words that came forth from the depths of [her] heart succeeded in calming them. She found an encouraging word to each one of them. She comforted and soothed. In no time a group formed among the miserable souls. She stood before them and began to recite passages from the psalms in her calm, tranquil voice and with wonderful melodies. All were drawn to her and together with her they recited Psalms. She did this several times a day.
Tova-Golda occupied herself all day with helping her neighbors. She knew how to move people, to soothe them, with a folksy and simple language. Even in situations like this, where the prominent inhabitants of the ghetto didn't always succeed, she found the right words–words to encourage and to comfort. The miserable ones eagerly drank up the words that came out of her mouth.
In her little town of Kvėdarna, Lithuania, Tova-Golda was known as [someone who was] good-hearted and cared for others. She took an active part in all of the voluntary organizations then in existence: “Linas-HaTzedek,” “Bikur-Cholim,” and such. When the wife of a Polish man passed away and the elderly man was left on his own, Tova-Golda helped him by taking care of his shopping and preparing his meals for Sabbath evenings and holidays. The old man wanted to recompense her for her kind-heartedness, but she would not agree. When she saw that the old man was sad that she had not agreed to receive a salary for her work, she decided to let him feel like he was helping her, too: This old man had been a chazzan in his youth and Tova-Golda asked him if he would teach her the cantillation notes for prayers for the holidays. The old man eagerly agreed and the two of them were happy [with the arrangement].
During the Sabbaths and the holidays it was possible to hear wonderful melodies [emanating] from that house–both the old chazzan and the young girl would sing. From then on, Tova-Golda's expertise [continued to grow] in prayers and cantorial pieces. She had a calm voice, a good voice. During times of sadness and fear she would sing some of her beautiful songs to the women of the ghetto. She knew how to imitate the sounds of every musical instrument–among them, the piano and the violin. She would touch her fingers to her teeth as if she were playing the keys of a piano, and when she would touch her nose she would bring forth the sound of a violin.
Bat-Sheva [Schwartz] recounted: “Tova-Golda was like an angel to everyone. Twenty-four hours a day she was busy helping others. Several women gave birth in terrible conditions in the ghetto. The infants didn't last but a few days. It was Tova-Golda who managed, quietly and gently, to take the tiny bodies away from the poor mothers and to prepare them for burial.”
In the month of Elul she would agree to arise with Bat-Sheva and her sister Shoshana and they would go together to wake up the women for “Slichot.” She organized in the old synagogue Chevrut Tehillim and minyans. Wherever one only needed to help, she would be the first one. She did everything with her whole heart and that's why they respected and loved her.
A diphtheria outbreak occurred in the ghetto. Between the lack of medical treatment and the sub-human [living] conditions many children died and the disease spread rapidly. The Lithuanian civic leaders were also gripped with fear that the disease would also spread beyond the ghetto into the [surrounding] city itself, and they thus decided to hospitalize the children in the municipal hospital. [During their hospital stay] there was no communication whatsoever between the children and the[ir] parents. No one knew if the children were dead or alive.
Some weeks passed. One day, the gates of the ghetto were opened, and a truck drove inside, dropping off a number of miserable looking creatures and then promptly drove
↑ Most Soviet Bloc Jews were sent to concentration camps and gassed or starved to death.
off. These were the five Jewish girls among sick children in the municipal hospital who remained alive once the plague had passed. The children were gaunt, pale, and their heads were shaved. They didn't even have the strength to stand on their own two feet. They lay on the sidewalk like stray cats, strewn over one another, crying and howling: “Mother, Mother….” Not a soul recognized them. Over the period in which they had been in the ghetto their mothers had been murdered by one or another of the “actions:” The death machine was constantly working, never ceasing for a minute.
Before it was decided what to do with these girls Tova-Golda came to them and soothed them and promised them that, from that day forward, she would be their “mother.” She gathered them all up, and from that moment she devoted her life to [taking care of] them, collecting food from the better off families in the ghetto, mending their clothes, and bathing and feeding them. Every day she was occupied with them. The girls called her “mother” and went with her wherever she went. They always held on to her dress, because they were afraid that she might run away or leave them on their own. A few days passed and the orphans began to fatten up a little bit and again resemble human beings.
Even more miserable days arrived: The danger that the ghetto would be liquidated was ever-present [and fear] was in the air. Each person looked for an opportunity to escape, to hide in the forests, in the villages–maybe they would even manage to find some safe place until the fury passed. Her friends in the ghetto–Bat-Sheva Schwartz, her sister, Shoshana Frivelsky, and Merka Shlomovitz, z”l – they suggested to her that they should all escape together. She did not agree. Bat-Sheva can still see the last, frightful scene: Tova-Golda standing in the street, surrounded by the orphans. To their pleas that she escape together with them, she replied decisively and with strength of spirit: “I shall not flee! Who would care for the orphans? I will go together with them! HaShem shall avenge their blood!”
The liquidation of the ghetto. The last women were led like sheep to the slaughter. Among those women marching on their final journey was a young woman and a cluster of small girls gathered around her – a mother and [her] orphans…
EEH attended Holocaust Remembrance Day in Warsaw, 2021
Head pioneer of a pioneer unit reports to the pioneer leader of the school, Russia, USSR, 1953
EEH dedicates this website to the memory of past lives and past times
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