Holocaust Remembrance Day begins at sundown on May 4th. I traditionally have posted a blog of my recommended Holocaust films. I thought I would do something more personal this year.
About fifteen years ago, I came across some very old photos belonging to my mother. One of them was a photo of a man and women with what appeared to be their two young children. I asked my mom who they were.
“That is your grandfather’s(Fred) sister, husband and children. They were murdered in the Holocaust”
What? I did not know my grandfather had a sister let alone they were murdered. He had passed in 1983 and had been ravaged by a stroke years earlier. He never told me about any of his family in the “old country”. I knew we had some relatives in Israel on his side but I had only met one of them when I was very young.
My mom told me that Fred actually had two other brothers, Yosef who immigrated to Palestine, which would of course, would later became Israel and Louis or “Levi” who had lived in NYC. My grandfather rarely talked about it to my mom so she had very little to tell us. I had to know. Did I have an extended family that I had never met? Where they all dead? Were more of my family murdered in the Holocaust? Where the smiling couple and children in the photo even my family? Was that really my grandfather’s sister? My mom was unsure.
Over the years I would make some efforts to start a family tree but without no real starting point of a living person who knew more than my mom, it was difficult. My mother is an only child. Her mother had extended family but they also had little info about Fred’s pedigree. A dead end. I would never know who this mysterious couple was that may be family and among eleven million others who perished in the Holocaust, never got to fulfill their futures. Never got to see their children grow up. Leaving me only to imagine how they must have died at the hands of the Nazis in a ghetto, concentration camp or maybe shot in the back of the head and dumped into a mass grave.
Fast forward to 2012. While my efforts had hit a roadblock over the years, I had never forgotten that photo. I would often pull it out and stare, wondering what they must have been thinking in that happy time. Did they know they were doomed? What were they thinking? There was some writing in Yiddish on the back of the photo. I had it translated.”Murdered by the Nazis” not much more. Nothing to tell me who they were. I asked my mom to send me the rest of her old photos. Another photo of the couple and children. Photos of family in Israel from my grandfather’s visit in 1966 when I was only five. There had to be living relatives. How do I contact them? Some of them will still be alive because they are young in the photo. Someone there could surely tell me about the photo. Why had we not stayed in touch? I decided to simply start at the beginning. With a family tree started by my grandfather. I would use Ancestry.com.
Re-creating my family history was like putting together the pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle but not knowing what the final picture is supposed to look like when done. Early on it was very successful. I was able to get a great history on my grandfather and his brother, Louis because they emigrated to the United States. There was a bunch of records that had been digitized and available on the Ancestory site. The third brother Josef was much more difficult because he left the town they were all born in Noua Sulita, Romania, and went to Palestine. There is really no centralized database of records relating to Israel. I next utilized JewishGen.com. I also sent the information to a good friend of mine at Yad Vashem. I found more on the three brothers but nothing on this alleged sister and family. Dead End.
Fast forward to 2013. Through continuing detective work on Ancestry, I was able to track down a relative on the side of Fred’s brother Louis. What do I do now? I was so nervous! I wrote out my script.
“Hi, I am Brian Cuban, My grandfather is Fred Feldman. His brother was Louis Feldman, your grandfather. We are related”
I called. As one might expect they were skeptical. Some guy calling out of the blue and claiming relation. I’d be skeptical as well. The first call was uncomfortable and I thought I had hit another dead end. I expressed my disappointment to my younger brother Jeff. He pointed out that it was probably a big shock and they needed to digest it. Relax and I would hear from them again.
Jeff was right. Fast forward two weeks. The phone rings. It’s the granddaughter! We have connected! We had a great conversation. We exchanged the photos we had. Then the big Holocaust break comes. She sends me among other photos, the exact same photo I have of the couple and their children that were supposedly murdered. There is writing on the back. I sent it to a good friend of mine from the Dallas Intown Chabad who had been helping me with the Yiddish Translation. I expected it to say the same as the other. “Murdered by the Nazis”. It didn’t. It said, “Menashe, Frida and children.” The same photo had been sent by Fred’s brother Yosef in Israel, to both Fred and Louis as a remembrance of their sister. I had done it. I had made the Holocaust connection. I had a great aunt. Her name was Frida Feldman-Sterenberg. Her husband was Dr. Menashe Sterenberg. Their children were Raya and Yitzhak.
Once I had the names, the dominoes fell. I immediately accessed the Yad Vashem Holocaust Testimony database. There were numerous Holocaust testimonies for Frida and family submitted by relatives of mine from Israel giving some of the details of their lives and ultimate death at the hands of the Romanian army who had allied with Nazi Germany and implemented their own version of the Final Solution known as pogroms. Here is what I have learned so far about their short lives.
Noua Sulita was captured by Romanian forces on July 2, 1941. On the same day, 800 Jews were murdered probably including Frida’s husband Menashe and daughter Raya. They were found shot with Menashe still holding her. The surviving Jews including my great aunt Frida and her son Yitzhak, , were rounded up and put into a factory. On July 20, 1941 all the surviving Jews from the town were deported to Transiteria. En route they were exposed to constant brutality, and the old and weak among them were put to death. This included my great aunt Frida who was shot when she fell behind on the march. Yitzhak died later from illness and starvation at a Transnitria concentration camp.
The soldiers who slaughtered my family and murdered the majority of Jews in Noua Sulita, may have died later in the war. They may have moved to new locations under new names. They may have gone on to live the full lives they denied my family. They may have been prosecuted as war criminals. I will never know. They will probably always been nameless, faceless, murders relegated to the images I give them and I sometimes relive the the pain and desperation Frida and family must have felt having their futures taken from them. As long as I live however, they will always live. As long as the entire Feldman family goes on in the form of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, they will always live. Family, including my long lost relatives in Israel who I have now reconnected with and will soon meet for the first time.
I will never forget my great aunt Frida Feldman-Sterenberg, Menahse Sterenberg, Yitzhak Sterenberg and Raya Sterenberg who were among the eleven million murdered in the Holocaust. .I hope you won’t either.