Thursday, June 30, 2011

A postcard from Reizel

We know that my grandmother’s mother died when she was very young. The story is that she was crossing the Bug River on a sled. Some peasants had cut holes in the ice for fishing, and the sled fell into the ice and she drowned. There may or may not have been others with her, including other children. Because their father fell apart, and could not care for them, my grandmother and her brother were then raised by other relatives. My father always thought they were raised by their mother’s family, probably by their maternal grandmother. When he asked his mother what her mother’s name was, she said Reizel. So he thought that Reizel was the woman who drowned in the river.
Going through family papers, my father found a postcard in Yiddish. He doesn’t remember where or when he found it.   
When he finally had it translated, this is what it said:
TO: Mrs. Chaie Gittel Silberman
82-84 Sheriff  St.
New York

Reizel Korenbaum
Kupiecka  (Commerce st.) 32
Dom starow (home for the aged)

Postmark: 11VII3728
Sunday the 7.12 Bialystok
To my dear daughter Chai Gittel and good health to the grandchildren.
I am in good health. Dear Daughter, you will be surprised because of my sudden writing this letter to you. I have no choice but to turn to you. As you know Leibl Lager (?) has got a match for his oldest girl. She is already "dating" some years a very accomplished young man only they will need some help with an apartment and some furniture for them to be able to marry. So I am asking you dear daughter to turn to Freidel's (?) sister, who might be able to help out and maybe you can also help. I am not asking anything for myself. I will accomplish this as helping a couple to marry is one of the greatest things.
Stay healthy from your faithful mother, mother in law, Grandmother Reizel Korenbaum.

If Reizel is writing from Bialystok in 1937, she is clearly not the mother who died young. And her last name is Korenbaum, so she is not from the mother’s side of the family. Could she be a grandmother? Aunt? Cousin? Did Kalman remarry and Reizel, his second wife, raised his children as her own?
There is no one named Reizel in the extensive family tree that the Korenbaum cousins have compiled.
And what is she doing in Bialystok? As far as we know, no one in the Korenbaum family lived in Bialystok. It is a big city, far from the places where the family was – Maloryta, Wlodowa, Warsaw (100 miles from Warsaw).
Whoever she is, she clearly thinks of Gittel as her daughter. And she is clearly in touch with Leibl.
And who is Freidel? And who is her sister who Gittel would have been in touch with in the US? Again, there is no one with this name in the family tree.
Why would her writing be considered “sudden”? Were they not in touch? Or was it the request for money that made the letter unusual?
The more we find, the more confusing it gets.

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