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 the pink and red countries:
Below we discuss the 20th century history of 3 of these countries.
Poland Like the other pink countries, Poland was in the Soviet Bloc from 1945 to 1989.
On 1 Sep 1939 Poland was invaded by Germany and World War II began. 17 days later the Soviet Union launched another attack, from the east, and the country was divided between Nazi Germany and Communist USSR.
The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War II operation, in the summer of 1944, by the underground Polish Resistance Home Army to liberate Warsaw from German occupation. Photos:
Total WW II casualties Six million Polish citizens perished during WW II (1939-1945), including three million Polish Jews. The country lay in ruins.
As World War II ended, Poland fell under Soviet control and the communist People’s Republic of Poland was created. The country’s boundaries were radically changed and shifted to the west, followed by mass movements of the various minority populations (Czech., Hung., Ukrainian, etc.) Poland lay behind the Iron Curtain, and the Cold War between East and West had begun.
Latvia is another of the 19 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.
In 1940 the Red Army moved into Latvia, which was soon incorporated into the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany invaded and occupied 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.
About 300,000 Latvians fled to Sweden and Germany before the arrival of Soviet forces. Several waves of mass deportation to northern Russia and Siberia--altogether involving at least 280,000 people. 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. This population shift continued during Latvia's entire period of Soviet rule, 1944 - 1989.
The reason E. European cases are so often unsolved is that many people were sent to distant foreign labour camps, prison camps, or death camps, or were forced to migrate because their homes or cities were destroyed, or the homes were confiscated by the enemy, or collectivized by Soviet Communism. Stalin moved over 100 million people to random parts of the Soviet Bloc countries to destroy local communities. He feared
communities would have the strength to oppose him. Hitler stole millions of homes, farms, & shops from conquered Poles, Czechoslovakians, Ukrainians, etc., and gave these properties to Germans to settle conquered areas.
All this upheaval in the Soviet Bloc resulted in large numbers of displaced refugees and immigrants. Families were broken up. Brothers didn't know where sisters had gone; children never learned whether their parents survived.
Pre-1990 birth and death records in 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.
In the German Demoratic Republic, also known as Communist East Germany, the State owned all land, factories, shops, houses, etc. In the bottom of the photo at right you see 1 meter steel I-beams welded together to form 3-way crosseses. East Germany set these tank stoppers along the border with West Germany to prevent invasion from the West.
Old Documents from Clients
Remember, 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 (judge) 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 GF's (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 proofs are needed, we may ask you to please go through all your family's attics, basements, garages, etc. Don't forget to check with in-laws and step-relatives. For example, if you had a widowed aunt who never had children and is now deceased, your GF's old papers that were in her possession 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 missing or insufficient.
We don't need most typical "hoarder" items, such as old newspapers and magazines, but look for anything that is signed, or with a date of birth or 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.
↑ 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 carried these in their pockets or purses, in the days prior to cell phones.
↑ 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 GF 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. (Town of birth, not merely country.) This is very important information, 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 of bibles. In modern times, births are announced on Facebook, 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. People seldom discarded the old bible and bought a shiney new one. This was the age before consumerism. They passed the old bibles down to their children and grandchildren.
Here is a typical page of births from an American family bible:
↑ EEH often uses documents described herein 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 former Soviet Bloc countries. The below account from the Telshe Yizkor Book about Telšiai, Lithuania (1984) tells of the horrible crimes done to the Jews and why so many refugees left Lithuania during the War and the years following:
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.
...She came to notice in the ghetto when, on Rosh Hashanah, Jews gathered for holiday prayers at the old synagogue. The survivors [of those who had been murdered] – mostly women – gathered in the synagogue. 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 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.
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.
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].
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.
↑ Most Soviet Bloc Jews were sent to concentration camps and gassed or starved to death.
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!”
When the ghetto was liquidated, 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…
As the war ended, the Soviet Union marched back into Lithuania.
EEH attended Holocaust Remembrance Day in Warsaw, 2021
← Flag of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
1917 to 1989
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