Sunday, April 28, 2013


When I have blogged about the stories of particular people, I have tried to time them for their yahrzeits - the Jewish date of death. Sometimes we are deprived of that information. The hero of today's story was born on 4 May, according to the Gregorian calendar.

Following is a draft of an article which was published in Sharsheret Hadorot in August 2007.
In the matter of

In the words of the website of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims (ICHEIC),
ICHEIC was established in 1998 following negotiations among European insurance companies and U.S. insurance regulators, as well as representatives of international Jewish and survivor organizations and the State of Israel to collect and facilitate the signatory companies' processing of insurance claims from the Holocaust period.
These claims resulted from the fact that many Holocaust victims held life insurance policies which were never paid after their deaths or for which payment of premiums was discontinued due to the events of the Holocaust.  
During the course of 2003 and as the 31 December deadline for filing claims approached, I learned that ICHEIC maintained a searchable online database with names of policy holders and that this database had a Pickholz listed.  The man in question was Chaim Mendel Pickholz and the only information listed was that the policy was issued in Czortkow, by the Italian insurance company Assicurazioni Generali S.p.A. (Generali).
I hadn't a clue who this man was.  Czortkow is in the general area of Skalat (east Galicia), where the main branches of the Pikholz families lived, but we knew of no Pikholz who actually lived in Czortkow.  Mendel is a very rare Pikholz name and of course I had no way of knowing if Chaim was originally part of his name, or if it had been added later due to illness - a common phenomenon.  (In fact, my own grandfather, born Mendel Pickholz, had Chaim added to his name around the time I was born.)   To tell the truth, my interest in pursuing this lead was more to identify the man himself, rather than any insurance benefits, but things don't always end up the way they begin.             While I was at it, I searched for additional Pikholz descendants in the ICHEIC database, using variant spellings and wildcards and eventually turned up two others: Chaim Pickholz Muhlrak (sic) and Izrael Isser Pickholz vel Kupferschmied, both of whom bought their policies from Generali in "Skala."  The fact that both these men were listed with double surnames made it impossible to find them without a wild card search, because a simple "Pickholz" search was not considered a match.  But those same double surnames made it easy to identify the men themselves and to contact their nearest surviving relatives.                 
Chaim Pickholz of Skalat (not Skala, of course) was the son of Moses Pikholz and Chancie Muhlrad and I know the six grandchildren of his brother.  There was no one closer who survived the Holocaust.  I helped them file a claim and after considerable hemming and hawing about non-payment of premiums, Generali offered the cousins a settlement of $3354.34, which I believe they accepted and received.
Izrael Isser Kupferschmid had a Pikholz mother and a Pikholz wife, so the identification was easy.  In his case, I know the two granddaughters of his wife's brother.  I helped them file a claim and Generali acknowledged that he had had two twenty-year policies with them, both issued in 1929.  One they claimed was invalid and for the other they offered the princely sum of $1462.16.  I believe that the sisters took what was offered and did not appeal the decision regarding the second policy.                   In neither case did ICHEIC play any role that we could discern.  The claims were filed with ICHEIC but all the subsequent correspondence came from Generali.          But Chaim Mendel was another story entirely.  We simply had no idea who he was.  One Pikholz descendant in the US knew that her grandmother had a brother - Shoil ben Aryeh Leib Pikholz - who lived not far from Czortkow and that this uncle had made aliyah sometime after WWI, leaving two grown sons in Galicia.  No one knew anything about these two sons, so I suggested she file a claim, because if this Chaim Mendel was Shoil's son, it would be easy enough to prove the relationship.  I also filed a claim, based on the possibility that Chaim Mendel was part of the Pikholz family in neighboring Budanow and I thought at the time that this Budanow family might be closely related to my own.  (We have never been able to find living descendants of the Budanow family itself.)                These two claims were pretty weak, but our purpose was to get a file open and to learn who Chaim Mendel was.  ICHEIC's rules stated that even if the insurance company rejected a claim, they had to show documentation and that, we figured, would tell us who Chaim Mendel was.            
So on 9 December 2003, I filed my claim and on 17 November 2004 ICHEIC in London informed me that it had been submitted to Generali for their attention.  On 9 August 2005 (twenty months after my filing), Generali informed me that they had no life insurance policy that fit the information I had given them.  Generali invited me to appeal to ICHEIC.
By this time I had learned that there was likely no Mendel in the Budanow Pikholz family and that this family was not closely related to my own, so the entire basis for my original claim was invalid.  But I still wanted to identify Chaim Mendel, so I pushed on.                  In my appeal, dated 26 August 2005, I reminded ICHEIC that according to their own rules, the claimant is entitled to see any relevant documents and protested that this rule was not being honored.  On 21 September, ICHEIC sent the appeal to Generali and on 24 October Generali rejected the appeal, once again without showing any relevant documents.  This time they said I had thirty days to request an arbitrator.                         In my request for arbitration, dated 7 November, I reviewed all that I knew about the eleven Pikholz descendants named Mendel born before 1920, and suggested that the best candidate would be Mendel Liebergal, the son of Sara Pikholz and Moshe Liebergal of Skalat, who was born in 1890.  In my petition I reminded ICHEIC that according to their website "ICHEIC's mission is to identify, settle, and pay individual claims" and I pointed out that if they would simply tell me when and where Chaim Mendel was born and who his parents were, I could help them fulfill their mission.            On 15 December 2005, Generali informed ICHEIC that they rejected my claim once again and "there is nothing further to add."  On 21 December, ICHEIC informed me of Generali's decision and on 13 January 2006 I wrote back, telling them what I thought of them and their charade.             On 2 March 2006, Generali write that "all possible explanations regarding this claim have already been provided" and that again they "have nothing further to add with respect to the appeal in question."  On the matter of showing relevant documentation, I may as well have been talking to the walls.                 The arbitrator saw the material on 19 June 2006 and on 23 June I was informed that I had fourteen days to reply to Generali's "last word."                   
On 20 July 2006, Mark Halpern of JRI-Poland sent me a sneak prevue of the newest Skalat records (births for 1902-05) in the form of an Excel file, this in my capacity as town leader for Skalat for JRI-Poland.  And there in 1902 was the birth of Chaim Mendel Pickholz, born in nearby Kaczanowka to Josef Pickholz of Kaczanowka and Bertha Schwebel of Czortkow.
I knew that Josef and Bertha had three sons.  Abraham who was born in 1900 and died in 1901, Yitzhak (1906-1977) who was buried in New Jersey and Munio, whose name I knew from a submission to JewishGen's Family Tree of the Jewish People by a Schwebel relative.  Munio must be Chaim Mendel.  I had assumed that Munio was a nickname for Moshe, because that was the case with another Skalat-area Pikholz.  I learned later that I was not the only one who made that mistake.                         Yitzhak - who went by the name Irwin in the US - had no children, but as recently as 2000, his wife had been alive.  Back then, I had found Else Pickholz in the phone book and had written to see who she was.  I received a response from her nephew, Len, who said that she was Irwin's widow, that they had no children and that Irwin had a brother killed in the Holocaust, but she knew nothing more about the family.  Or more likely, she no longer remembered anything about Irwin's family.                  But this was 2006 and Else was no longer in the phone book.  So I called the cemetery in New Jersey, where I learned that the other half of Irwin's double grave was unoccupied.  They wouldn't tell me more, but gave me the number for the burial society.  The woman at the society found my inquiry rather suspicious, but promised to pass a message to the family.  Soon after, I had an email from Len, telling me that Else was ninety-five years old and that he was handling her affairs.  He too regarded me with a bit of suspicion at the outset.                  I faxed ICHEIC with all this news and advised them that from here on, they should consider Else to be the claimant, although I would continue working with them (or perhaps against them) on her behalf.                    
Of course, I immediately ordered Chaim Mendel's birth record from Warsaw.  In the meantime, Len provided Irwin's birth certificate and marriage certificate showing the same parents as Chaim Mendel and demonstrating Else's relationship.  On 7 August I faxed Len's documents and power of attorney to the arbitrator, together with Irwin's application for Social Security (SS-5) which showed his parents' names and his birthplace in his own hand - a document which I had acquired some years earlier.
When I left for the Conference in New York, I had not received an acknowledgement from ICHEIC's arbitrator for any of my new material.  During the Conference, I consulted with others on the subject, particularly with Sidney Zabludoff, who had extensive ICHEIC experience and who thought I had a good chance for a hearing and a favorable ruling, despite the fact that I was presenting new material after the appeal process had formally ended.                          By now, things were falling into place.  I did a search on my database for Czortkow and found two Pages of Testimony submitted in 1956 by Mrs Genia Stock of Kiryat Motzkin.  Mrs Stock had taken it upon herself to submit Pages for everyone she could remember from her home town of Probuzhna, including Moshe Pickholz, his wife Sarah and their three children - Freide, Josef and Avigdor.  I had a copy of these Pages from the very first days of my Pikholz research and in fact in my file of 325 Pages of Testimony, the one for Sarah is numbered "1."  I had spoken with the eighty year old Mrs. Stock at the time (1998) and she told me that she knew little of this Moshe, except that he had come from Czortkow, but his wife was from Probuzhna, so she remembered her family.  She did recall that he had a brother someplace outside Galicia - maybe Vienna.  My strongest impression of my conversation with Mrs Stock was that she was sorry that she was able to submit Pages of Testimony for only 975 of the nearly twelve hundred Jews of Probuzhna, and in that she felt that she had failed the others.                      I suspected that Mrs Stock had known "Munio" Pickholz and had assumed him to be Moshe, just as I had.  She had the 1902 year of birth and his father's name Josef.                    Sarah's maiden name was not listed, but her parents were identified as Avigdor and Miriam.  Mrs Stock had submitted two other Pages for people with these parents, both with the surname Klinger, so I guessed that Sarah may have been Klinger as well.                                         
Mrs. Stock testified that the family were killed in Belzec in 1942.
On 17 September, I notified the arbitrator that I now had Chaim Mendel's birth record in hand and informed him the precise date and house number.  I also told him that I believed he lived in Probuzhna and that his wife and children were Sarah Klinger and Freide, Josef and Avigdor.  I also reminded him that ICHEIC had not acknowledged receiving any of my new information since July.                    On 19 September, I received an email message from ICHEIC tellig me that the arbitrator needed further information and clarifications, particularly regarding the changes I had made in the claim.  (A fully reasonable request, under the circumstances.)                                  My 21 September faxed reply summarized the entire claim from beginning to end and included a copy of the birth record - all of which ICHEIC duly forwarded to Generali for comment on 24 October, advising them that they had ten days to respond.                On 13 December I reminded ICHEIC that Generali's ten days had long passed.                  On 27 December Generali sent me a copy of the policy, confirming that Sary Klinger was Chaim Mendel's wife, and offering a low five-figure settlement in the name of Else Pickholz for a twenty-five year policy issued in 1937.  They said that I had three business days to advise them if I was withdrawing the appeal.  ICHEIC was closing their London offices on 31 December and it was suddenly urgent to close all their files.                    I checked the math with Sidney Zabludoff, Len accepted Generali's surrender on his aunt's behalf and I withdrew the appeal. Len received the check in February 2007.               Sometimes the good guys prevail.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the moral support and advice I received along the way from Tom Venetianer of I have not been successful in locating Mrs Genia Stock to tell her the full story and I suspect she has passed on.                  
On this occasion, we pause to remember Chaim Mendel (Munio) ben Yosef and Beila (Bertha) Pickholz, his wife Sarah bat Avigdor and Miriam Klinger and their three young children, Freide, Josef and Avigdor.  May God avenge their blood.

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Note - If you large blank spaces where there should be new paragraphs, blame Blogger. They are really trying my patience.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


An attorney whom I did not know phoned me with an interesting story.  Soon after the end of World War II, in devastated Poland, two Jewish survivors married. The woman had a married brother with two sons. The man was an only child.

Soon after, they had a daughter who was severely retarded. This daughter was also an only child. A few years later, the two families came to Israel and they remained very close. The man died in the late 1980s and the wife about ten years later. The daughter inherited whatever they had and her two cousins (whose parents had died in the meantime) took care of her affairs.

A few years ago, the daughter died and was buried next to her parents. She died on the tenth of Iyyar which was last Shabbat, which is why I am telling her story today.

According to Israeli law, the parents are the heirs of the daughter, even though they are both dead. The expression is that they "inherit in the grave," which essentially means that whatever assets exist are split evenly between the mother's family and the father's family.

The mother's heirs are clear - her brother's two children. The ones who looked after the daughter's affairs after her parents died. The father had always said that he was an only child. The mother's nephews claimed than since the father had been an only child, they should inherit both halves.

The attorney wanted me to prove that the father was indeed an only child.

The information we had on the father was that he was born in a certain large Polish city in 1912. (We have the specific date, but as you have already figured out, I am not giving detail for reasons of family privacy and protection of sources.)

According to Polish law, vital records are not transferred from the Civil Records Office to the Polish State Archives until at least a hundred years from the last record in the particular set. We knew the father's parents' names but not their ages, so we had no way to know what years were relevant for the search. For that matter, we did not know if the couple had lived in some other city or even if they had been married previously. So proving that he was indeed an only child was no simple matter. It rarely is.

I began my search in the Arolsen index at Yad Vashem, where I was able to locate index cards naming the parents of the father. The proof of the parents was unambiguous, as he is at the same address as the daughter, on a brief list of survivors. The mother is on this same list, but with her maiden name and grouped with her brother's family.

Armed with the parents' names, I turned my attention to the JRI-Poland index, which for the city in question only went as far as 1902. That was enough to find the births of our guy's father (1876) and mother (1882). Those dates made it unlikely that there were children born before 1902, but any time from 1902 until the early 1920s would have been reasonable. Based on the ages of his parents, our man could well have had both older and younger brothers and sisters.

While I was at it, I checked the JewishGen Family Finder to see if anyone was researching his family on either his father's side or his mother's side. There was one, but it was a different, unrelated family.

During the past few years, the indefatigable volunteers at JRI-Poland have made efforts to gain access to records less than a hundred years old and have enjoyed some success. All of this is very much off the record, but in the case of the city in question, the JRI-Poland organizer is a good friend of mine and she told me that they had what purported to be a complete index of records through 1942, though not the records themselves.

We found the 1905 marriage record of the parents, in the index.

We also found births in the index for their eight children - that would be the only child, his three brothers and his four sisters.

The years in the index for the brothers are 1905, 1908 and 1912. The years for the four sisters are 1912, 1916, 1917 and 1920. Plus of course our man himself, in 1912.

The brother born in 1906 died that same year and the one born in 1905 died in 1908, so our guy wouldn't have known either of them. That does not conflict with his using the term "only child."

Three births in 1912 looked unusual - perhaps they were triplets, but more likely two of the births were late registrations, for reasons we cannot know. My friend the JRI-Poland organizer used a Polish connection to get a look at the actual registrations and in fact they were born in three different years - just registered at the same time. Our guy was actually born on the day which appears in the Arolsen records and in the Israeli documents.

In any case, we were left with one brother and five sisters unaccounted for. The term "only chid" is not consistent with having adult siblings killed in the Holocaust - not in Hebrew or Polish or Yiddish. Yet, there was nothing on these five other than their births. We see no death records and no marriage records. We see no one looking for them after the Holocaust nor them looking for family members.

There are any number of explanations - they could have married or died elsewhere. Our guy could have known they were killed so never looked for them. They could have survived unbeknownst to him and be living even today in Australia or Argentina or even in Poland. But none of those explanations is consistent with his being an "only child."

Our guy's father in mentioned in Holocaust literature as being from the city of his birth, so it is unlikely that the whole family moved elsewhere.

In the end, I was hired to find the facts and I did that to the best of my ability, even though they did not prove what the client wanted. What they worked out with the court regarding the inheritance is none of my business, but I expect it was some kind of a compromise. After all, the court is most afraid that some relative will show up later demanding a share of an inheritance which has already been distributed. That is a very low-probability event, no matter how you look at it, so there was alot of room to work something out.

But I did add one unusual paragraph to my report, as follows:
I must point out that I accept as axiomatic that the deceased is [who he said he is] ... that is, we are not speaking of a man who adopted the identity of another who died or disappeared, as happened more than once during the Holocaust period. I do not reject this possibility, but I have ignored it - largely because I have no way to examine it. Anyone who thinks that this solution fits this case is free to pursue it, but on his own.
If you ask me, that may well be the answer.
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Housekeeping notes:
One of my lecture proposals has been accepted by the Program Committee of the 33rd IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy planned for Boston in the first week in August.

My talk is scheduled for 5 PM Tuesday, which sounds good to me. There are five other lectures at the same time, plus a couple of meetings of geographically-based groups.  My previous two lectures have both been on the first day of the Conference, before many of the Conference attendees had even arrived.

Following is the lecture description as it appears in the Conference program.

A DNA Skeptic Turns His Family On Its Head - And Remains A Skeptic

As a genealogy research tool, DNA is very tempting because it tests the scientific genealogical makeup of possible family members, but at the same time uses analysis based on statistics and probability that can lead to incorrect or unfounded conclusions. The experts' explanations often confuse more than they illuminate, especially when you consider that some of these experts are the ones selling the testing services. So what is the lay researcher to do?

This talk will tell the story of one researcher, strictly a layman, who – despite his skepticism – used DNA testing to turn his basic family structure on its head, with more plans on the way. And despite his intentions to continue with this kind of research, remains something of a skeptic.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


The state of my home office is kind of getting to me.

It's two meters wide and four meters long, not counting the closet at the far end.

It has no window.

It's furnished with whatever I had at hand when we moved in, nearly five years ago. At the time, I had just left my drudge job and begun taking genealogy clients. I had no idea what I needed, so I set up based on what I had.

These two photos were taken from the doorway, leading from a closed-in porch which serves as a laundry room and spare bedroom.  It has a very large window overlooking a main street and generously lets in lots of noise.

The closet on the far wall came with the apartment. The cork-covered door in the middle leads to a bathroom, but I rarely use that doorway. I had the cork put on. Previously the door had been covered with a full-length mirror.
The only source of natural light and air, seen from my doorway. And much street noise.
The office chair faces my desktop computer which now uses a 24" screen. After I bought the tablet three years ago, I realized that it can serve as a bulletin board, as well as allowing me to have more things going on at once. When the 24" screen arrived, the older screen went to my son's room and his old clunky monitor came to me and the tablet is now attached to it. (When I have a chance to find a used flat-screen, I'll solve part of that problem.)

I really like the table that the tablet is on. I made it myself about a dozen years ago and it has some excellent storage. I also made the table that the 24" screen is on - it's not very good.

The wall I face when working has a couple of bulletin boards - one I hardly use anymore - and a small bookshelf for dictionaries, Bibles, a Hammond's World Atlas that I had been in print ten years when I got it for my bar mitzvah, and my Concordance. And a thesaurus that I also got for my bar mitzvah.

The second photograph shows four shelving units. The furthest one is something I made for Devir's toys when he was young and it fits here very well. The wooden cabinet is something I picked up at a second-hand store, seven or eight years ago. It has served it's purpose well, but it's really ugly and in very poor condition. The two sets of metal shelves have been with me for forty years, reassembled more times than I'd care to count as I moved from place to place. Despite their history, I think I am ready to part with them.

To the right of the door at the top of the wall is a heating / air-conditioning unit. It's definitely a necessity, though I'm usually too cheap to use it.

The two shelves of purple files in the top center are all Pikholz Project. The box of papers on the far end of the top white shelf are Pikholz Project papers waiting to be filed. Waiting is part of my system, but it's been too long.

There is also a large arm chair on the right as you enter the room. It's just below what you can see in the second picture. It's too big for the space, but I really really like it and when we moved here it was probably less than a year old.

And if that was everything, it wouldn't be half bad. But soon after we moved, we realized we didn't have enough refrigerator space and I like to have a few bottles of cold water close at hand. So we bought this, used, of course, and it found a place between the white table and the far closet.
When Mother moved out of her independent apartment, I added her desk to my collection. Mother brought that desk with her from Skokie twenty-six years ago.

There was no place for that but between the white table and the closet - where I almost never use it - so the refrigerator moved over next to the door. Now it's really crowded.
It's crowded, inefficient, with "to do" piles scattered all around and it's making me a bit nuts. (The Hebrew expression is that it gives me "harara" - a skin rash.)

So I asked Anat Gertner to come and have a look. Anat is an interior decorator whom I met back when I went to weekly meetings of a business networking group. I figured that an hour of her time was worth it to get me started on dealing with it.

Anat had a lot of questions, most beginning with "Do you really need..." Clearly the bulky screen had to go. She liked the big armchair, but it has to be placed better.
How about if I turn around and face the corner to the right of the door? I'm not sure I can handle that as it would disconnect me even more from the window on the porch. besides, facing a corner seems more confining. And then I'd have to rearrange all the electricity. And the phone line. But Anat likes the idea of shelving along the long left wall. She says that sitting in the middle of the room is inefficient.
Do I really need the refrigerator? I think so. I really like to have three bottles of cold water at hand.
Do I need the desk? Well, it's my mother's desk. And who will want it after me? One of my kids, I'd hope. They were all close with Mother.
Devir returned from a three-day class trip and saw I was doing things in my office. He asked what is going on and I told him I was making some changes, changing some furniture. He said "Not Savta's desk." So that settles that.
Anat took a look at a shelf full of odd items and pointed to a small plaster building. The conversation went something like this:
What is that?

That's the Casino Theater a landmark building in Vandergrift, where my mother grew up. It was across from my grandfather's store.
Why do you have it? Do you really need it?

Well, I bought it from the local historical society when I visited three years ago.

Where in Europe is Vandergrift?

Europe? It's about an hour from Pittsburgh.

Anat wants to get rid of all the shelves and tables. Things should be even and uniform. And she says I need real drawers, not just those plastic sets of four that I have all around. And I do have six real drawers - one with stamps, one with drivers and software manuals, one with computer cords, phone cords and such, one with pills and stuff. Plus the drawers in Mother's desk, which have mostly unsorted photographs.

She also wants me to move the scanner/printer further away from where I sit. She says it takes up prime real estate. (In the picture at the top, it's that black thing between the two computers, with the papers on top.)  I am sure she is right about that, but if I use that space for the tablet & screen, thus opening up space on my right for work, I may not be able to see that screen as easily.

Those really need some silver polish.
On top of the shelves to the right of the door are a couple of teapots and some plates from my wife's great-grandfather's restaurant in England. After her father finally shut it down, we ended up holding on to a vast quantity of plates, cutlery etc. Most of that is gone, but I insisted on holding onto a few pieces. Anat says they should go on a special glass shelf on the wall. That way maybe I'll polish them more than once a year.

Anat really doesn't like the small alarm clock but I want an analog clock with numbers, where I can see it. Not just the numbers on my computer or cell phone.
I need to find a way to keep the pictures from falling off the wall.
Jewish Law requires an unfinished patch in a home, as a zecher lemikdash - a reminder of the destruction of the Temple and the glory of Jerusalem. Mine is in my office, on the right wall above the white shelves. It stays where it is.

The center says "If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning. The pictures are from an old Passover Haggaddah or the sort we used at my grandfather's seder.

What about all the files, Anat wants to know. Can't they be scanned? I'm sure they can. Dick Eastman goes on about that all the time. But the scanning is alot of work and I'm still from the older generation who feels more comfortable with paper. And I'm not sure I trust the computer to keep it all safe, back-ups or no. Well, Anat has a suggestion for that - a friend who helps people organize themselves. Basically another pair of hands, though my brain sometimes has trouble controlling the pair that I have. And if she is going to scan files, she needs access to the computer, right?

So I concluded our meeting having tentatively decided on a a three-step process. First I would get rid of or consolidate everything I can. That includes getting things into temporary storage boxes for the duration of the process as well as getting rid of some of the furniture.

Second, I should talk with Anat's organizer and determine what she can do for me. And do it.

Third, go back to Anat for more specific advice about replacement shelving etc and arranging the room.

  • I learned how to work the feeder on the scanner, though for some reason some of the scans come out rotated ninety degrees.
  • I scanned 366 Pages of Testimony and thrown out the paper copies. I also scanned the first ninety-nine Skalat birth and death records, most of which have to be done in two parts and combined on the computer. Many more to go.
  • I did some rearranging of closets and opened up some storage space for these temporary boxes of which Anat speaks.
  • The old dot matrix printer is on the way out the door. My daughter Merav wants the paper.
  • A few miscellaneous items that are meant to go "someday" to the kids, will in fact go at the first opportunity.
  • I dug out Mother's musical clock which will go up above the doorway - probably without the batteries that make it play a different instrument every hour. The small alarm clock can go back in the bedroom.
  • My wife agreed to try to find a good folding table, which can repace the table on the porch, giving me a place to put Mother's desk. We are discussing the refrigerator.
  • The metal shelves to the right of the door are gone.
  • Nachum the painter is coming over to give me a price for a patch on the ceiling, caused by a leak in the upstairs neighbors shower. At the same time, I'll get a quote to refresh the office. (Maybe some other stuff too.)
  • The big ugly cabinet is more than half empty (some would say less than half full) and I hope to be able to get rid of it perhaps as soon as Sunday evening.
I am not going to keep you informed as I go along, but I'll probably give you a peek at the final results.
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Housekeeping notes
I am spending way to much of my blog time trying to get the photographs and the paragraph breaks to stay where I put them. And I save stuff one way and it comes back differently. Maybe I should be thinking about leaving Blogger. But it's another learning curve and who knows if it will be any better.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


I think I have mentioned Uncle Selig briefly once before, but since I have no idea how to search my entire blog history in one go, I cannot be sure. If anyone knows how to do this, I'd be pleased to know for future reference.

Many years ago when I was collecting family genealogy rather than doing actual research, my knowledge
of my Pickholtz was limited to this.

Morris, the youngest of the children of Hersch and Jutte Lea, is my grandfather.

Hersch was probably born in the early 1850s and the sisters were a bit older.

My father then made his only contribution to the family history, telling me a) that his grandfather Hersch Pickholtz had a brother Jachiel and b) that Hersch Pickholtz had an uncle Selig Pickholtz, who lived in the same area.

My father's grandfather died when my father was eight years old, so my father knew him a bit, but he had no recollection of how he happened to pick up this bit of information about Uncle Selig. Surely Hersch had other aunts and uncles. What was significant about this one that he should have been mentioned?

In any case, I made the notation and the picture in my head became this, including the addition of the name of Hersch's mother and the fact that the surname had been spelled Pikholz..

We started the Pikholz Project nearly fifteen years ago and at some point we (Jacob Laor and I) decided to order records from the AGAD archives in Warsaw. This was before JRI-Poland began indexing records from east Galicia, so we were quite on our own.

We began with Skalat, which we had begun to realize was where many of the Pikholz families came from, and as I recall, our first order was for about thirty records - mostly births and a few deaths. We had no idea what we would be getting.

Among those records was the 4 October 1862 birth of Isak Josef to Selig Pick and Chane Kaczka. We knew that some Pikholz were recorded as Pick, but some really were just that, so we could not draw any conclusions about this one.

We also received a death record for Isak Josef Pik, age 78, who died on 21 March 1862 and it appeared that the October baby was named for the man who had died in March.

At about the same time, I ordered some records from Zalosce, where Hersch and family lived, and I learned that my grandfather's older brother Uncle Joe, was not Josef Isak, but Isak Josef.

Other records came in, including the birth in 1871 of Markus to David Zeiler and his wife Mincie Pikholz, the daughter of Selig and Chane. This and other related records made it clear that these Pick/Pik records were ours. So clearly this Selig - even now the only Selig anywhere among the Pikholz descendants - was the uncle of my great-grandfather Hersch Pikholz. And the fact that Hersch and Selig had both named a child Isak Josef, were a strong indication that the Isak Josef who died in 1862 was a common ancestor.

But that created another problem. Isak Josef could be the father or grandfather of Selig easily enough, but ISAK Josef could hardly be the father or grandfather of ISAK Fischel. That's just not the way Galicianers did things.

And there was an additional problem. My father had specifically said - because he had specifically been told - that they lived in the same place. But Hersch and family lived in Zalosce while Selig lived in Skalat. (Well, we knew that Hersch's wife's family, the Kwoczkas, were from Zalosce. Hersch himself seems to have been born in nearby Podkamen, a place with no records. And Skalat was quite a ways from Zalosce and Podkamen.)

So I applied the Sherlock Holmes logic ("when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth") and came up with this scenario. Selig is not the brother of Isak Fischel but of his wife Rivka Feige, who was almost certainly born in Skalat. For reasons unknown, she married Isak Fischel [surname unknown] and they lived in Podkamen, where he was from. Three of their four children married people from Zalosce and lived there, but the daughter Bassie was sent back to Skalat to marry - that part is not speculation, we know it as truth.

That scenario gives us a new diagram, one that is not influenced by what we have since learned

about the identity of Isak Fischel. It leaves open the precise relationship between Isak Josef the elder and Rivka Feige and Selig - likely their father or their grandfather, but not important for now which.

The movement between the towns and the distances involved blurs the issue of their living "in the same place," so I am not concerned about that for now.

Let me emphasize, that I have not entered these connections in my database. Selig still stands as the head of a family without being connected to parents or to a sister. I'd need actual proof to formally record them together. For now, it's just in the "comments."

But I am also left with the nagging question - why did my father know this? How important was Selig? Maybe he made the trip to visit in Zalosce. Maybe he and Rivka Feige were twins or otherwise particularly close. (We know that Isak Josef had at least one other son who lived in Skalat.) Who knows?

But there is another angle which may open the door to something else entirely.

Jutte Leah Kwoczka, the wife of Hersch came from a family who lived in Zalosce. There are no Jewish Kwoczkas anywhere else. Her father Mordecai Meir was known as Markus. Whenever the subject of Jutte Leah's family came up, it was always "Kwoczka, like duck." It was presented as the Yiddish translation.

There is another similar surname that appears in any number of Jewish communites in Poland - but in east Galicia it is concentrated in Skalat. That would be Kaczka. Selig's wife is Chane Kaczka. Her father is Markus. Perhaps the same family that is Kwoczka in Zalosce, is Kaczka in Skalat. Perhaps not only is Selig related to Hersch but their wives are cousins. That would account for his being singled out among the relatives for special mention.

Or maybe not, but it's worth considering. The most recent batch of records from AGAD includes sixteen records of Kazkas from Skalat, including the death record for Chane, Selig's wife, in 1873 at age forty-five. I have not begun to deal with them and it's not a top priority. But I am telling this story now for another reason.

The newest batch of records also includes the birth in 1896 of Bertha Zeiler, the daughter of Selig's grandson Markus. They lived in Stryyevka, just outside Zbarazh. So we now have a fourth generation for Selig - enough to officially count as a family in the Pikholz Project, not just an unconnected group.

The SELIG family now includes three children - Mincie, Markus and Isak Josef. Markus died in 1859 as a young child. We have no idea what happened to Isak Josef. Mincie and her husband David Zeiler had Markus in 1871 and Fischel in 1888 and maybe others in between. We have wives for both Markus and Fischel and now we have Bertha as well.

At this stage in our research, we celebrate the elimination of independent families which are merged into other families. I hope we shall be able to do that with the Selig family, especially since we are pretty sure how that merger would work. But for now we welcome this new four-generation Pikholz family, the family of Uncle Selig.

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Dina Ostrower has been chosen to light one of the six flames at the national ceremony opening Holocaust Memorial Day Sunday (today) evening. Dina is from Stryj and has been a part of the Pikholz Project almost from the beginning. Her mother was Scheindel Pickholz of the DINA family and her father was Matityahu Pickholz of the RavJG family. Matityahu's parents, Baruch and Yocheved, are both Pickholz descendants as well.

You can read Dina's story (or at least look at the pictures, if you do not read Hebrew) here.